The Qwillery | category: Quercus USA


The Qwillery

A blog about books and other things speculative

Interview with Anna Smaill, author of The Chimes

Please welcome Anna Smaill to The Qwillery as part of the 2016 Debut Author Challenge Interviews. The Chimes is published on May 3rd by Quercus.

Interview with Anna Smaill, author of The Chimes

TQWelcome to The Qwillery. When and why did you start writing?

Anna:  Thanks for having me. I can’t recall a definite starting point. I do feel as though writing has always been there in my life as the way in which I work things out and process ideas. I remember the exhilaration of first filling school exercise books with stories. That point when I exceeded the typical three-page-or-so boundary of story-length expectation and suddenly saw that I could just go on and on, inventing. I guess that’s the germ of novel-writing right there. I used to earnestly keep a diary, and remember having very serious, pious thoughts about this. But, the first ‘proper’ thing I wrote was for a short story competition when I was about 11 years old. Oddly, I now see that that story was a sort of thematic template for The Chimes. It was about memory, and the struggle to return to consciousness, and there were birds in there also. I’m not sure if it’s encouraging or depressing to learn that I have not progressed very far since that time.

TQAre you a plotter, a pantser or a hybrid?

Anna:  I am a committed hybrid of plotter and pantser. I need to plot sufficiently in order to be able to pants, and to pants sufficiently in order to be able to plot. Frustratingly, the exact balance between these two methods is very unpredictable. I have been trying to find the right metaphor for it: perhaps it’s a little like clearing debris from a snow-covered slope to ensure a good solid downhill run. You spend a long while toiling away in order to clear the major obstacles, then you totter to the edge of the slope on your skis and kick off and just go on your nerve. If you’ve done the work and cleared the path sufficiently, you should be able to trust to your wits and slalom around any of the smaller rocks that await. This part should be entirely terrifying, though.

TQWhat is the most challenging thing for you about writing?

Anna:  The uncertainty. All of the many different and often conflicting uncertainties – can I write a book? is this the right book for me to write? can I finish it? can I start it? etc

TQWhat has influenced / influences your writing? How has being a poet influenced your prose writing?

Anna:  Being serious about music and playing the violin as a teenager has had a long-term influence on my writing. I think the focus on practise, as opposed to performance, is a great foundation for any type of art. It’s heartening somehow to remember the sheer amount of time required to master a musical instrument, to attain the level of concentration and discipline necessary to play it reasonably well. The humility of that process is one I find very encouraging somehow, but it’s an ongoing challenge to keep in mind. The books I read as a child have had a major, ongoing influence on me and tend to feel a bit like an emotional bass line to everything I do. And having spent time writing poetry does, I think, shape the way I put words together. I tend to have a strong aural drive when I’m writing prose. The way words sound often propels my composition. This is not always conducive to writing fiction, so I have to work to keep it in check.

TQ Describe The Chimes in 140 characters or less.

Anna:  Um….In a world where music has replaced written language and shut down story, two young men must help the world to regain its memory.

TQTell us something about The Chimes that is not found in the book description.

Anna:  An early scene from the novel is set in Hampstead Heath, where I used to walk almost daily when I started writing the book. Simon goes up the path I used to always walk, past the Parliament Hill Lido. My husband is a novelist, too, and – without our discussing it – his recent novel includes a crucial scene that also takes place in this exact spot.

TQWhat inspired you to write The Chimes? What appeals to you about writing dystopian fiction? Why set the novel in London?

Anna The Chimes came from two different places, I think. The first was simply the impulse to write about an institution dedicated solely to music. I read Herman Hesse’s The Glass Bead Game when I was a teenager and was fascinated by the rarefied intellectual elite depicted in that book. It tapped into some essential adolescent wish-fulfilment appeal. Don’t we all hunger to finally have our special gifts recognised and valued, to be removed from the prosaic routines of daily life? It’s the plot of so many children’s and teen novels and films, after all, from Fame to Harry Potter. What really made me write the book, though, was something totally unexpected: I heard Simon’s voice. I was on the bus in London and it came to me very clearly, speaking through some sort of painful darkness, but with a peculiar lilt and zest. I wrote it down in a notebook. It was a few days later that I wondered if that voice could be speaking from a world ruled by that institutionalised musical elite. That’s where the novel started for me.

Writing a dystopian novel seemed like the perfect, semi-transgressive, way of escaping the reality of my life at the time, which was bound up in the struggle to find a university job – then, frankly, any decent paying job – after finishing my PhD. It seemed somehow irresponsible, reckless even, to devote so much time to what was so much fun. It became slowly more serious, the responsibility of the book took hold, but it felt like deep, important fun throughout. It was exhilarating but also terrifying to realise that I was going to have to disregard all of the practical considerations of my future and career for a while. The novel was set in London because I was living in London, and because – in a wholly unquestionable way – Simon, the protagonist was living in London. The city that I was seeing every day, and imagining the past of, was the novel’s first real character.

TQWhat sort of research did you do for The Chimes?

Anna:  Not a great deal (see pantsing and plotting above). I had to clear some obstacles first – I had to parse some of the problems, work out if key ideas were feasible. But, in a way, I was never concerned about strict plausibility; things had to hold up metaphorically, had to have some ring of poetic truth to them. I’m not sure how to explain this, exactly. By way of explanation, some of the still extant bookmarks I have on my web browser for writing the novel include the following:

‘Nocturnal Disturbances and the Infrasonic “HUM” – Journal of Borderland Research’

‘A Proper Pea-Souper – The Terrible London Smog of 1952’

‘Acoustic Location – Wikipedia’

‘A description of St Barnabas Church, Oxford, by Arthur W. Blomfield (1871).

TQWho was the easiest character to write and why? The hardest and why?

Anna:  In many ways, Lucien was the easiest character to write. Possibly because while I was writing, I half fell in love with him, and that state, being half in love, is one of heightened imagination, heightened sensitivity and projection. Simon was very difficult to write, not because I didn’t grasp him as a character, but because his memories were so obscured in the book’s early stages. As a first-person narrator he controls the novel’s story, and yet it was a very slow process teasing out these memories and trying to balance them against the plot’s onward movement.

TQWhich question about The Chimes do you wish someone would ask? Ask it and answer it!

Anna:  I’ve been lucky to be interviewed by some very astute readers (the current interview being no exception), so it’s hard to think of anything really. Oh, but it would be deeply flattering if someone quizzed me on my literary allusions. Then I could act smart and well-read and say, well, seeing you asked, I do in fact steal several lines from T. S. Eliot’s The Waste Land. Thefts, rather than imitations, of course…

TQGive us one or two of your favorite non-spoilery quotes from The Chimes.

Anna:  Probably this, from Simon thinking about his friend Clare and the way she has learnt to deal with her memory loss:

“How without mercy and without blame we have all of us been. And how careless to have misplaced so much.”

And, because it was a lot of fun to write, I’d have to include this poem, sung by Simon’s mother.
“In the quiet days of power,

seven ravens in the tower.

When you clip the raven’s wing,

then the bird begins to sing.

When you break the raven’s beak,

then the bird begins to speak.

When the Chimes fill up the sky,

then the ravens start to fly.

Gwillum, Huginn, Cedric, Thor,

Odin, Hardy, nevermore.

Never ravens in the tree

till Muninn can fly home to me.”

TQWhat's next?

Anna:  I’m working on my second novel currently. It’s very different from The Chimes in that it’s set in Tokyo, and a recognisable contemporary version of that city. It’s definitely not a dystopian novel, but, it’s also emphatically not a realist novel. So far it’s about friendship, betrayal, and talking animals.

TQThank you for joining us at The Qwillery.

The Chimes
Quercus, May 3, 2016
Hardcover and eBook, 304 pages

Interview with Anna Smaill, author of The Chimes
After the end of a brutal civil war, London is divided, with slums standing next to a walled city of elites. Monk-like masters are selected for special schooling and shut away for decades, learning to write beautiful compositions for the chimes, played citywide morning and night, to mute memory and keep the citizens trapped in ignorance.

A young orphan named Simon arrives in London with nothing but the vague sense of a half-forgotten promise, to locate someone. What he finds is a new family--a gang of scavengers that patrols the underbelly of the city looking for valuable metal to sell. Drawn in by an enigmatic and charismatic leader, a blind young man named Lucien with a gift for song, Simon forgets entirely what originally brought him to the place he has now made his home.

In this alternate London, the past is a mystery, each new day feels the same as the last, and before is considered "blasphony." But Simon has a unique gift--the gift of retaining memories--that will lead him to discover a great injustice and take him far beyond the meager life as a member of Lucien's gang. Before long he will be engaged in an epic struggle for justice, love, and freedom.

The Chimes is an impressive work of speculative fiction, an imaginative adventure elegantly told. The Chimes reveals the human capacity to create both beauty and terror, in art and in life.

About Anna

Interview with Anna Smaill, author of The Chimes
Anna Smaill is a classically trained violinist and published poet. Born in Auckland in 1979, she holds an MA in Creative Writing from the International Institute of Modern Letters (Wellington), an MA in English Literature from the University of Auckland and a PhD in contemporary American poetry from University College London. She is the author of one book of poetry, The Violinist in Spring, and her poems have been published and anthologized in New Zealand and the United Kingdom. She has lived and worked in both Tokyo and London, and now lives in New Zealand with her husband, novelist Carl Shuker, and their daughter.

Website  ~  Twitter @AnnaESmaill  ~  Facebook

2016 Debut Author Challenge Update: The Chimes by Anna Smaill

2016 Debut Author Challenge Update: The Chimes by Anna Smaill

The Qwillery is pleased to announce the newest featured author for the 2016 Debut Author Challenge.

Anna Smaill

The Chimes
Quercus, May 3, 2016
Hardcover and eBook, 304 pages

2016 Debut Author Challenge Update: The Chimes by Anna Smaill
After the end of a brutal civil war, London is divided, with slums standing next to a walled city of elites. Monk-like masters are selected for special schooling and shut away for decades, learning to write beautiful compositions for the chimes, played citywide morning and night, to mute memory and keep the citizens trapped in ignorance.

A young orphan named Simon arrives in London with nothing but the vague sense of a half-forgotten promise, to locate someone. What he finds is a new family--a gang of scavengers that patrols the underbelly of the city looking for valuable metal to sell. Drawn in by an enigmatic and charismatic leader, a blind young man named Lucien with a gift for song, Simon forgets entirely what originally brought him to the place he has now made his home.

In this alternate London, the past is a mystery, each new day feels the same as the last, and before is considered "blasphony." But Simon has a unique gift--the gift of retaining memories--that will lead him to discover a great injustice and take him far beyond the meager life as a member of Lucien's gang. Before long he will be engaged in an epic struggle for justice, love, and freedom.

The Chimes is an impressive work of speculative fiction, an imaginative adventure elegantly told. The Chimes reveals the human capacity to create both beauty and terror, in art and in life.

Cover Reveal - Regeneration by Stephanie Saulter

No Whitewashing! Author Input! – A Good Cover Design Story

To celebrate Regeneration’s US cover reveal, I thought I’d tell you a story. A true story this time, and like many truths, one that confounds conventional wisdom – in this case, the oft-repeated tale of woe in which an unapproachable and unaccountable publishing behemoth slaps an unrepresentative (or just boringly generic) cover onto a book and sends it out into the world, insensitive either to the text or to the opinion of the person who wrote it.

Sadly, we’re not talking urban legend here: this does happen. Even famous, best-selling authors bemoan having no input, nor even seeing their covers before they’re published. Sometimes, when the wrongness of what they’ve done hits a particularly frayed public nerve, the resulting furore becomes fierce enough to force a change on the part of the publisher. But the conventional wisdom remains that authors, as a matter of course, have no say in how their books are packaged.

Here’s the thing: while this may be often (and appallingly) true, it’s by no means universal; and it does a disservice to the publishers who do work with and listen to their authors to tar them with the same brush. Despite being neither famous nor best-selling (yet, they insist, just not yet), my publishers have always shown me my covers as works-in-progress. They have always asked for my feedback, and I’ve never been ignored. It’s been my experience through six covers now: the UK and US editions of Gemsigns, Binary and Regeneration, published by Quercus Imprint, Jo Fletcher Books in both markets (although the two series wound up looking quite different to each other).

Never has this spirit of enthusiastic, respectful collaboration been more evident, or more important, than in developing the US cover for Regeneration. It was the first time that I found myself not just suggesting tweaks to an image that I was basically OK with, but having to explain what was wrong with it and asking for it to be significantly reworked. Now that the final happy result has been revealed to the world, I want to share the story of its evolution from that somewhat shaky beginning. I pitched the idea to Quercus, who have very kindly agreed. We both think it’s important to demonstrate how things are done when they’re done well. And to tell more than one kind of story.

The following is lifted largely from our email correspondence, with some additional context from Quercus on how they approached the cover and responded to my comments.


Designing the US cover for Regeneration, the final book of the ®Evolution trilogy

The US covers for Gemsigns and Binary
Cover Reveal - Regeneration by Stephanie Saulter Cover Reveal - Regeneration by Stephanie Saulter

Round 1

Quercus’ original idea:

We were lucky to have the same cover designer, Daniel Rembert work on Gemsigns, Binary and now Regeneration. We have been very conscious of wanting all three covers to be coordinated so that the sense of a trilogy would be recognizable. There are several dynamic plotlines to pick from, but we chose to focus on the gillungs’ story – as it directly reflects the progression of the gems from chattel fighting for their rights, to better integrated members of society, to community leaders and innovators. We wanted the image to be underwater but to convey the idea of the quantum battery technology and its use as a power source.

Quercus initially approached Stephanie with the below first cover ideas for Regeneration:

Cover Reveal - Regeneration by Stephanie Saulter Cover Reveal - Regeneration by Stephanie Saulter

Stephanie’s original thoughts:

“These are beautiful as a picture, but: why is the central image of a naked nubile female? And: who is she supposed to be? The only teenage gillung woman in the text is Agwé, and Agwé is black. So if it’s meant to be Agwé it needs to look like Agwé, which means properly dark skin and CLOTHING. But much as I love her — and believe me, my soul would soar at the sight of beautiful black Agwé with her glowing green hair and cherry-red bodysuit as the cover image — she’s very much a secondary character, so I’m not sure why she’d be the cover? That suggests a YA novel. And she certainly wouldn’t be in such a passive pose, none of them would. If we’re going to do a gillung underwater against a turbine they should look more engaged, more dynamic.

“I think part of what’s thrown me as well is that this composition is such a departure from the Gemsigns and Binary covers, which had been developing a motif that I really liked: the raised arms/ fist, the crowd of people, the sense of an engaged urban community. Regeneration continues that whole theme of the collective and the communal, and brings it to a climax with the intersections of family, friends, workmates etc.

“(I’ve lost a bet with myself; I thought it might be an underwater viewpoint, but looking up through the water at the quayside crowded with people and the huge egg-shaped Thames Tidal building rising up alongside. Something that, when the reader got to the penultimate chapter with Gabriel desperately trying to get people to leave, they’d look back at the cover and go ah-ha! …Not saying it should be that, mind, it just seemed like it would be an obvious continuation of the motif.)”

Quercus’ cover design team went back to the drawing board with Stephanie’s suggestions in mind.

Round 2

Quercus’ thoughts:

“Stephanie provides fantastic, detailed feedback and we went back to the designer with it. We have been back and forth with the designer about these covers from the very beginning, so it’s no surprise that the first interpretation wasn’t quite right.

Featuring a gillung is essential, we agree, and I think the color palette here is good—figuring out how to pull off the composition in a way that captures the same sense of dynamism and community focus as the previous cover designs is just part of the challenge. We were not feeling 100% about the main figure (if we were to use her, our designer would definitely need to finesse some of the detailing with the wet suit and the skin tone but we really loved the general composition/direction.”

Cover Reveal - Regeneration by Stephanie Saulter Cover Reveal - Regeneration by Stephanie Saulter Cover Reveal - Regeneration by Stephanie Saulter

Stephanie’s thoughts:

“I too much prefer the overall direction of this composition, and in general I like the first image, with the central figure rising vertically and purposefully, best of all. The background figures are better in this as well; in the others it’s not clear whether they’re swimming or drowning, but in the first one it’s pretty evident they are all in their element. However I also like the fact that more of the topside buildings are visible in the second image; it sort of contextualises the swimmers. So I don’t know if it’s possible to maintain that general upward thrust of the figures in the first image while having more of the buildings from the second image as well? (I realise part of this also has to do with where the title sits on the cover, and the designer will no doubt play around with that far more efficiently than I can visualise it!)”

“As for the central figure, yes she’d need to be a bit darker and more detailed. I’d love her to be a teeny bit curvier and her hair a bit more cloud-like. The main thing to remember about the gillungs’ physicality — apart from skin tone — is that they are powerful people. This is a very subtle thing; I don’t mean to suggest that they should be large or blocky, but if you think of any aquatic mammal from otters to whales, there is a sort of muscular solidity about them.”

“You said you’re not 100% certain about the main figure; are you thinking about alternatives? Who/ what would you use instead? Because it does need a strong central component, I think, and at the moment she’s it …”

Round Three:

Quercus’ thoughts:

“We are always grateful for Stephanie’s very helpful and comprehensive feedback. Our designer has incorporated some of these tweaks. The differences are subtle but effective.”

Cover Reveal - Regeneration by Stephanie Saulter

Stephanie’s thoughts:

“I really like this, and I think it does the job well — it’s both attractive and accurate, if you know what I mean. Holding the earlier two covers up to look at all three in a row, it’s clear that although the images are different from each other they are thematically related, having a sort of family resemblance — the altered human figure against a crowded urban backdrop, the sense of energy and urgency. I like the cover itself, but also the sense of a continuum.”

The final cover:

Cover Reveal - Regeneration by Stephanie Saulter

Available in bookstores and online, May 2016!

Daniel Rembert's design work can be found at

Click each cover to see it full-sized.

Cover Revealed: Binary by Stephanie Saulter and Excerpt

The Qwillery is thrilled to present the US cover for Binary, ®Evolution 2, by Stephanie Saulter out May 5, 2015 from Jo Fletcher Books:

Cover Revealed: Binary by Stephanie Saulter and Excerpt

Zavcka Klist has reinvented herself: no longer the ruthless gemtech enforcer determined to keep the gems they created enslaved, she's now all about transparency and sharing the fruits of Bel'Natur's research to help gems and norms alike.

Neither Aryel Morningstar nor Dr. Eli Walker are convinced that Klist or Bel'Natur can have changed so dramatically, but the gems have problems that only a gemtech can solve. In exchange for their help, digital savant Herran agrees to work on Klist's latest project: reviving the science that drove mankind to the brink of extinction.

Then confiscated genestock disappears from a secure government facility, and the more DI Varsi investigates, the closer she comes to the dark heart of Bel'Natur and what Zavcka Klist is really after-not to mention the secrets of Aryel Morningstar's own past...

An excerpt


Eli waited until the room was almost full, with crowds still massed in the aisles, before slipping in as inconspicuously as possible. He was recognizable enough, especially in this crowd, for a few heads to turn, but no one spoke to him as he found a seat near the back, and he did not think he had been spotted by any of the organizing staff. He had no wish to be hailed from the stage by whatever functionary was conducting the Festival’s formal launch, as could very easily happen if they knew he was there.
       There was no risk of such notice from the evening’s keynote speaker, but he nevertheless felt an almost juvenile aversion to her discovering that he was in attendance. The terms on which they had last met had not been friendly. Mikal was down in front, among the other city officials, and it amused him to imagine the reaction that facing the giant gem would likely evoke; though doubtless she had been steeling herself since the election to keep her feelings well hidden. Still, this last- minute trailing of a major announcement was a curious development, one which had attracted a flurry of comment from the business newstreams. He could understand Aryel’s desire for a first- person report.
       He had glimpsed her as he made his way inside the massive building, fl uttering to earth near the stage that had been erected on the riverwalk’s great park. Greeting Lyriam no doubt, and satisfying herself that all was in readiness for those attending the festivities at his invitation. Disability, either physical or psychological, was virtually unknown among norms but still distressingly common among gems. The older ones in particular had been designed, reared, and trained at a time when such matters barely rated consideration. Even though they had all since been raised to legal equality with norms, ensuring that crippled, disfigured, or dysfunctional gems got the assistance they needed still took a fair amount of coordination and cajoling.
       The people here, he thought as he looked around him, were probably about equally divided between those who had fought early and with diligence for those freedoms and support, and others who had clambered aboard the bandwagon but in truth would have slept no less well had the bad old days of gemtech domination never ended. They would not wish for a return to it, not now that their
consciences had been pricked, but there was a malleability about them that the woman he had come to hear would understand well how to manipulate.
       Not unlike Aryel.
       The thought felt immediately both unworthy— vile, even— and intriguing. Eli picked at it as the program got under way. Aryel too knew how to play people, how to express a perspective and inspire a response. He wondered if the only real difference between the two women was that he happened to share the winged gem’s sense of values.
       He quickly decided— some deeply skeptical part of his mind whispered it might be too quickly— that it was more than that. Aryel’s approach was subtle. She used neither brutality nor blackmail; her weapon was an almost preternatural ability to persuade, a manner that was somehow both emotive and calmly rational. What she thought you should do became, after a few moments’ conversation, the only logical thing to do. That intellectual clarity and ability to communicate had put him in her corner. It was how she had hauled her people out of their postemancipation limbo and into the light.
       That and her beauty, and the magic of her wings.
       He emerged from his reverie in time to applaud the last of a parade of dignitaries. There were a few seconds of bustle before the lights tightened down again to illuminate only the stage. The Festival director reappeared on it, staring owl- like into the gloom of the audience, and gathered up his full pomp to announce that as they were no doubt aware, the chief executive of the Bel’Natur conglomerate would be the final speaker. What was less well- known, he told them, was that Bel’Natur had been early and generous supporters of the Festival, helping to fund much of the launch and the monthlong program of events. He was sure they would all give a very warm welcome to a woman many had heard of but few— unlike himself of course— had been privileged to meet: Zavcka Klist.
       As he took to the stage to make his introduction, in the instant after the lights went down, the door through which Eli had entered was pushed open once again. There was a rustle as some latecomer slipped quickly in.
       When they did not immediately walk past him on the way to one of the few empty seats, he glanced around. He was astonished to recognize the distinctive profile of Aryel Morningstar against the soft blue glow of exit lights, stepping back against the wall, wings tucked in tight. A murmur started as those on either side of the aisle realized who stood there and he saw her raise a finger sharply to her lips. The murmur died away and she folded her arms, standing still as a stone.

Zavcka Klist stood in the spotlight, gazing out into the darkened auditorium while perfunctory applause died away. She carried no tablet, and ignored the lectern onto which a prepared speech might have been projected. She seemed, Eli thought, to be letting them all take a good long look, the better to emphasize whatever point she had come here to make.
       She had changed little in the years since they had last met face to face. Slightly taller than the norm average, blond and dark- eyed, she was possessed of a harsh aristocratic beauty. She had the gift of elegance, of wearing expensive clothes well and looking glamorous with little embellishment. She had favored scarlet lipstick then, he remembered, but no longer; her mouth was now a softer shade, and the lines of her stylish summer suit less stridently autocratic.
       But she was still Zavcka Klist.
       She still wasted little time on pleasantries.
       “Our involvement with the Festival of the Future has struck many as anachronistic,” she began. “You may well wonder how a company that was on the brink of collapse not so very long ago, part of an industry whose day many consider done, can imagine itself to have much of a future. You all know I’m not exaggerating when I tell you that the last few years have been, to say the least, challenging.”
       There were a few titters of nervous laughter that degenerated hastily into scattered coughs.
       “The financial challenges have been obvious and serious, but I am happy to report that they have largely been overcome. Bel’Natur remains a leader in agricultural gemtech and as a result we are once again approaching the levels of turnover and profitability that we enjoyed before the abolition of commercialized human gemtech.”
       The silence rippled out. It was as though a stone had been dropped into the massed memories of a century’s shame; a deep, still pool of guilt and recrimination around which, by mutual and unspoken agreement, most norms preferred to tiptoe as silently as possible. Zavcka stared straight into the audience as she spoke, eyes traveling slowly along the seated ranks of gems and norms, a mingling made possible only by the abolition of which she spoke. Eli, who already knew what a bravura performance she was capable of, nevertheless found himself holding his breath.
       “That was, of course, a watershed for the company, as indeed it has been for all of society. You will not be surprised to learn, ladies and gentlemen, gems and norms, that the cultural challenges it presented to us at Bel’Natur were beyond anything we’d ever dealt with. I’m not going to insult your intelligence by pretending that we had no difficulty facing up to the facts of our history, learning the lessons from it, and instituting the changes, both in our business practices and in our attitudes, to ensure that such a cavalier and unthinking application of technology could never occur within our company again. I am certainly not going to insult your sense of justice by suggesting that no wrongs were done.”
       A loud murmur, with more than a hint, Eli thought, of the kind of self- righteousness beloved of those who preferred not to consider their own complicity. People shifted and muttered to each other. He kept his eyes on the back of Mikal’s head, shoulders and half a torso higher than anyone else’s, and noted that he had not moved a muscle.
       Zavcka stepped back a couple of paces, hands up in capitulation. “Let me say this, loud and clear, so no one can be in any doubt where Bel’Natur stands on this today: Wrongs were done, and we did them, along with the rest of the industry. And while we could justifiably add that a medical crisis and lax regulation and social apathy were contributing factors, that doesn’t actually let us off the hook. It has been a difficult thing to come to terms with, collectively and individually. I might not have been the chief executive during that time, but as you know I’ve been in this business for many years and I, like all of us, should have known better.”
       Eli felt an almost overwhelming disorientation. He remembered his first conversation with Zavcka Klist, just days before she took over the top job at what had once been the world’s most prestigious gemtech. There had been no humility then, and precious little contrition. He could not square that recollection with the apparent sincerity on display before him. He shook himself and glanced back at Aryel. Her arms were still folded across her chest, a counterpoint to the high bulge of her wings, and he could almost see the frown she bent toward Zavcka.
       He shifted his own attention back to the woman in the spotlight.
       “So we deal with the past,” Zavcka said, and she seemed to be looking directly at Mikal before turning away to pace the stage. “We admit our mistakes, we try to help the people we hurt, and we move on. And moving on is what I mainly want to talk about this evening, ladies and gentlemen. Moving on is why we’re all here. In our case that involved a lesson from the past, and what we think it means for the future.
       “As we examined the series of events that led us to where we are now, we noted the parallels between the way breakthroughs in genetic engineering were applied without due consideration for the
consequences and the way advances in information technology had been adopted with reckless speed a century and a half ago. Now we know where the latter led us— to the Syndrome, and a crisis
that demanded we develop modification techniques just to survive. But what became apparent is that although society used gemtech to solve the problems created by infotech, we nevertheless abandoned infotech. Progress came to a crashing halt once the Syndrome was identified. Our technical capacity is almost exactly the same as it was at year zero. That is neither necessary nor desirable.”
       She raised her hands again, this time a gesture of inclusion and uplift. The room murmured again, this time an expectant little ripple. They were hanging on her every word. Eli could not entirely conquer a reluctant sense of admiration.
       “We believe that the next great advances in science and technology, the next wave of improvement in the way we live our lives, will come from picking up where we left off with infotech. So what I came here to tell you today is that, far from being consigned to the garbage can of history, the Bel’Natur Corporation is changing course. We are launching a major, long- term research and development program into computing and information technologies. We now know how to do it safely, and as we travel down this new road we will be integrating what we’ve learned from human gemtech—both the scientific breakthroughs and the ethical imperatives. Over the next ten years we are going to be investing over a billion credits, creating thousands of new jobs, and bringing to market dozens of new products. We are going to be combining our unparalleled expertise in neural architecture with new concepts in software and hardware. We are going to launch the next phase of infotech.”

The midsummer sun was still high enough above the horizon to cast a golden glow over the gathering crowds on the riverwalk an hour later. Eli let himself be carried along in the fl ow of people heading toward the park, until he could step aside into a little nook where two ancient chestnut trees sheltered an empty bench. He sank down onto it and tried to think.
       Zavcka had wrapped her speech up quickly. The grandee who had introduced her bounced back onstage, grinning widely, and invited questions. Eli wondered if Aryel would stay and challenge or slip away as unobtrusively as she had arrived, but she did neither. Instead she had waited until the lights came up, waited until they touched the wall where she stood and Zavcka Klist’s eyes had focused on her and widened, before she sidestepped quickly to the door and out. By then people were on their feet all over the room and salvos were being fired at the stage.
       They ranged predictably from anxious inquiries about safety, to what sorts of products she thought might emerge, to quantifying the economic impact. She had gone straight to Mikal’s raised hand, though, despite knowing that he must be about to ask her to explain precisely what she meant by integrating human gemtech.
       Work had already begun, she said, in the pre-Syndrome era, on direct interfaces. But they did not understand enough then about how the brain was structured and how it worked; progress was slow, patchy, and ultimately abandoned.
       “We have the answers to those questions now,” she said. “And while we can regret the manner in which much of that knowledge was gained, I don’t think it honors anybody to simply not use it. On the contrary, it seems to me that we have an obligation to turn it into something worthwhile. Much of the original research focused on disability, for example, and working in difficult environments like space. Or underwater. If we can use what we already know to link this,” she pointed to her own head, “directly to this,” and she took a tablet out of the Festival director’s hand and held it up with the same restrained theatricality, “then there are so many problems we can solve.”
       She handed the tablet back, her attention still on Mikal. “We’re not talking about new gemtech. But I understand the concerns behind your question, Councillor, and I respect them. It’s a question that should be asked.”
       A few seconds of silence then, the audience bemusedly contemplating the unexpected courtesy she was showing to Mikal. Eli could imagine the split- lidded blink with which he filled it, something he thought his friend sometimes did on purpose when he wished to be disconcerting.
       “There are many questions that should be asked,” Mikal had replied evenly. “And answered. I look forward to it.”
       Eli knew her well enough to recognize the flash of anger in Zavcka Klist’s eyes as she registered the rebuke. A few people seemed to realize that they had missed something, but it sailed too far over the heads of most. Mikal sat back, giving up the floor and watching her weather the torrent.
       Now Eli kept an eye on the passing crowd until the giant loomed into view. He raised a hand. Mikal waved back and changed course, navigating to the edge of the fl ow of people so that Eli could fall into step beside him.
       “Well,” he said, channeling well- worn irony, “that was interesting.”
       Mikal laughed, a gusty tone with an edge of bitterness to it. “Which part? The rebirth of infotech, the recycling of gemtech, or Zavcka Klist being my new best friend?”
       “That last one is the killer. Did she speak to you again? I slipped out when it looked like there was going to be mingling. No love lost between us, as you know.”
       “I think she would have been nice even to you. She came straight up to me, handshake, congratulations, the whole thing. Said she didn’t think it would have been helpful to get into a technical discussion about neurochemistry from the stage but she didn’t want me to think she was being evasive, they intend to be completely open, blah, blah, blah.”
       “Subject to commercial constraints, of course.”
       “Of course. Though she did make a point of saying they want to set up a protocol with the regulators to ensure that the protection of intellectual property doesn’t undermine transparency. Quite how you manage that I don’t know, but she’d be very happy for me to help work it out.”
       “Blimey. Do you believe her?”
       “Do I believe that she wants me on her private stream, or popping by the office? That she mortifies herself nightly over what Bel’Natur did? Over what she allowed to happen to Gabriel, and Callan, and goodness knows how many others? No, no and no. She doesn’t look nearly shredded enough.”
       The big man sighed and ran a hand through his hair. It was medium length and a nondescript lightish brown. The modifications he bore were more than sufficient gemsign; his designers had correctly judged that topping them off with a jewel- colored, phosphorescent mane would have been redundant. His double thumbs left twin furrows on either side of his head.
       “But is she now genuinely trying to chart a new course? She might be, Eli. She knows they can’t go back to the old days. Innovate or die, as they used to say at Recombin. Infotech has been stagnant for a long time. We are all Syndrome- safe now, gems and norms, even the Remnants. Bel’Natur might be up to exactly what she says they’re up to.”
       “You sound like a politician, Mik.”
       “Go wash your mouth out. With soap.”

Review: The Detainee by Peter Liney

The Detainee
Author:  Peter Liney
Series:  The Detainee Trilogy 1
Publisher:  Jo Fletcher Books, March 11, 2014
Format:  Hardcover and eBook, 288 pages
List Price:  $26.99 (print)
ISBN:  9781623651084 (print)
Review Copy:  Provided by the Publisher
Other Formats:  Available in Mass Market Paperback, February 3, 2015

Review: The Detainee by Peter Liney
Peter Liney honed his strong narrative skills and attention to detail during his long career as a writer of German, Australian, British, and South African television and radio programs. In his debut novel, The Detainee, Liney has crated a dystopian world in which the state has gone bust and can no longer support its weakest members.

The Island is a place of hopelessness. The Island is death. And it is to this place that all the elderly and infirm are shipped, the scapegoats for the collapse of society. There’s no escape, not from the punishment satellites that deliver instant judgment for any crime—including escape attempts—and not from the demons that come on foggy nights, when the satellites are all but blind. But when one of the Island’s inhabitants, the aging "Big Guy" Clancy, finds a network of tunnels beneath the waste, there is suddenly hope—for love, for escape, and for the chance to fight back.

Brannigan's Review

The Detainee is an edge of your seat dystopia novel for adults. It's a little odd to read a dystopian novel that doesn't have a young teenage protagonist running for her life while remaining beautiful and having an equally beautiful love interest. I, for one, like the changes Peter Liney has brought to the popular YA genre. All of the main characters are over 30 years old and the 'Big Guy' or Clancy is twice that age. To Liney's credit, he has a diverse cast of characters. And while there's still some running involved, it ain’t pretty, it's real. Liney does a great job of bring some reality to the genre that sucked me into the story.

The world Liney's created isn't too hard to imagine as a near future event. The island is a fascinating location for the story and Liney uses it to great effect. He does a wonderful job of describing the fog that is both a curse and a blessing at times. There were several times in the story I felt like I was running behind Clancy and tripping over loose bricks trying to outrun the fog and the danger it brought.

The Detainee has all four narrative conflicts running through the story, Man vs Society, Man vs Man, Man vs Nature, and Man vs Self. As with any dystopian story, there's an all-powerful big brother watching them through the satellites and dealing out their own brand of justice as they see fit. However, they aren't the focus of the story, so there is no true closure. I'm sure they will be playing a bigger role in the other two books. The antagonist remains off camera for the majority of the story, and is only mentioned by characters with dread. This was effective in building up a mystique for the character, but it also makes it hard to live up to once he arrives. Now for his henchmen, they do a wonderful job of bringing horror and fear to the island. I don't want to say too much as it will lose its impact, but I found it sufficiently creepy. In the end though, I found the struggle Clancy has with himself and the island to be the most rewarding of conflicts. Liney did a wonderful job of getting me inside Clancy's head by using first person narrative.

Some people might think a 63 year-old protagonist is too old. My father is the same age, and I have no trouble imagining him playing the role of Clancy, so it didn't throw me out of the story or make it hard to find a connection to Clancy. There are a few tiny problems with story, but with any speculative fiction you have to allow yourself to let go and enjoy the ride, which I recommend you do. The only other problem I had was that the ending seemed to be a little too abrupt. I would have liked maybe two more pages to settle me down and hook me for book two.

The Detainee is an engaging dystopian novel for adults. There are acts of violence, language, and sexual situations so I would only recommend the book to adults. It's perfect for anyone who loves dystopian fiction and refreshingly realistic characters.

Guest Blog by Aidan Harte - North of Neverland - March 1, 2014

Please welcome Aidan Harte to The Qwillery as part of the 2014 Debut Author Challenge Guest Blogs. Irenicon (The Wave Trilogy 1) will be published on April 1, 2014 in North America.

Guest Blog by Aidan Harte - North of Neverland - March 1, 2014

North of Neverland

Page count that would make Tolstoy tremble? Hooded gentleman on the cover? Chronology? Cast list? It’s a Fantasy novel all right, but what am I forgetting? Oh yes: maps.

Fantasy and maps go together like elections and promises.

Funny thing though, M. John Harrison, a writer I much esteem, is rather down on them. He says mapping Middle Earth is folly, and decries the “great clomping foot of nerdism”. For him Fantasy should unhinge the reader from the everyday world, and maps are altogether too literal a thing for that. It’s like doing your tax returns on mushrooms: it’s possible, but the results are unlikely to be inspiring. And he’s not revelling in obscurity either: the baroque grandeur of Viriconium or The Centauri Device show the merit in that approach. “Where we’re going,” Harrison seems to say, “we don’t need maps!”

Then there’s the George R. R Martin’s line of attack. Striving for an earthy realism, old George will show you a knight sitting by a campfire. He’ll tell you what armour yon knight’s wearing and who forged it. He’ll tell you about the animal upon whose leg said knight is chewing and how he cooked it. Family motto. Medical history. It can’t be that bad a method either when the results are so readable. Hard to argue with a bazillion book sales either… Naturally, Martin and Harrison both say Tolkien’s in their corner. He’s the guvnor after all.

Before starting Irenicon, I was with Harrison. I had high-minded objections to maps, cast lists and all the traditional accoutrements. No longer. Directions mostly don’t matter, but sometimes – in war for example – they matter a great deal. Demographics is Destiny they say (they usually being white folk terrified of their gardeners) but Geography beats Demographics every time. Show me a nation’s map; I’ll show you its soul. It’s no accident that Napoleon’s party trick was reading maps. Maps help when you don’t want to interrupt proceedings to remind readers every other chapter that Castle Skullface is southwest of The Forest of Shivers. Maps help in Fantasy the way they help in life: they get you there quicker.

So once you’ve cravenly bowed to tradition, how do you go about it? Typically you’ll want your map to be something your characters might conceivably lay their gauntlets on. How far to you take that? Our familiar North-Up, South-Down orientation is a relatively recent convention – and unforgivably Eurocentric – but it’s darn useful. Then there’s the question of accuracy. We have the armies of 19th Century surveyors – not satellites – to thank for the precise maps we’re used to. Have you seen any medieval cartography? Columbus was lucky to get out of the harbour, let alone across the Atlantic. It didn’t help matters that mariners’ detailed knowledge of coasts was regarded less than received notions which held Jerusalem to be at world’s centre.

It’s a question of taste, rather like the inevitable language problems that arise from the historical settings of most Fantasy. Readers will wince if a medieval character says “OK” but beyond that, if it flows, if it’s consistent, it becomes invisible. Then it can serve the story. And story is ultimately is what the traditional accoutrements, like maps, help us get to.

So that’s my excuse. Tolkien drew them too. Jeez, get off my back…


The Wave Trilogy 1
Jo Fletcher Books, April 1, 2014
Hardcover and eBook, 496 pages
(US Debut)

Guest Blog by Aidan Harte - North of Neverland - March 1, 2014
The river Irenicon is a feat of ancient Concordian engineering. Blasted through the middle of Rasenna in 1347, using Wave technology, it divided the only city strong enough to defeat the Concordian Empire. But no one could have predicted the river would become sentient—and hostile. Sofia Scaligeri, the soon-to-be Contessa of Rasenna, has inherited a city tearing itself apart from the inside. And try as she might, she can see no way of stopping the culture of vendetta that has the city in its grasp. Until a Concordian engineer arrives to build a bridge over the Irenicon, clarifying everything: the feuding factions of Rasenna can either continue to fight each other or they can unite against their shared enemy. And they will surely need to stand together—for Concord is about to unleash the Wave again.

About Aidan

Guest Blog by Aidan Harte - North of Neverland - March 1, 2014
Photo by Damien Sass
Aidan Harte was born in Kilkenny, studied sculpture at the Florence Academy of Art and currently works as sculptor in Dublin, where he also lives. Before discovering sculpture, he worked in animation and TV; in 2006 he created and directed the TV show Skunk Fu, which has been shown on Cartoon Network, Kids WB and the BBC.


Interview with Anna Smaill, author of The Chimes2016 Debut Author Challenge Update: The Chimes by Anna SmaillCover Reveal - Regeneration by Stephanie SaulterCover Revealed: Binary by Stephanie Saulter and ExcerptReview: The Detainee by Peter LineyGiveaway: Gemsigns by Stephanie SaulterGiveaway: Gemsigns (®EVOLUTION  1) by Stephanie SaulterGuest Blog by Aidan Harte - North of Neverland - March 1, 2014

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