Friday, 28 March 2014

Flower and moth

You may be wondering why the blog has blushed, and here's your answer: the cover for The Mime Order has been revealed! This is the UK version, but the US is almost identical, save for the missing "2" and the subtitle "A Novel" below the white moth. I hope you guys like it. Do share your thoughts, and any theories on the symbology of the cover, in the comments section. The cover was designed by the wonderful David Mann at Bloomsbury. Click here to read a short interview I did with him last year. 

I've just finished the second round of edits on the book, which has taken it up to a whopping 137K words – just a little shorter than the finished manuscript of The Bone Season, with more still to be added. While my editors have the manuscript I'll be working on a few overdue blog posts, including the first Bone Season Crash Course entry on dreamscapes and dreamwalking to get you back into the swing of Scion. Watch this space.


Wednesday, 12 March 2014

Going to press

As I always wanted this blog to cover every major stage of publishing a book, I asked Bloomsbury if they could arrange for me to see the paperback version of The Bone Season being printed. Along with Helen and Vicky from the publicity department, I was off to CPI Mackays, one of the biggest printers in Europe, where The Bone Season was being printed in paperback form. Their UK manufacturing site is in Croydon, Surrey, and their major source of competition is Clays. We were given a tour by Justin Manley, who was kind enough to show us around the factory once we'd put on our gleaming high-vis jackets, of course. 

The earliest printing system with movable characters is thought to have been invented by a Chinese printer named Bì Shēng around 1045, during the Song dynasty. Another version is reported to have been used in Korea between the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. However,
Bì Shēng's method of printing was fragile, slow, and wasn't suitable for producing the enormous amount of reading matter that we consume today. In the West, the best-known historical figure in the history of printing is the German goldsmith and businessman Johannes Gutenberg. His version of the press, completed in the late 1440s, caused a revolution in mass communication, particularly in Renaissance Europe. Previously, most books had been written by hand, and literature in general was largely the domain of scholars, noblemen, and members of the clergy. Gutenberg's press meant that books could be produced quickly and cheaply, increasing the demand for literature among the general public. Not only were ancient manuscripts reprinted, but new reading matter appeared in the form of pamphlets, tracts, broadsides, and more. Although Gutenberg is widely accredited as the master inventor, it's sometimes claimed that a Dutch sexton named Laurens Janszoon Coster, a resident of Haarlem, was printing as early as 1430. Certainly Coster was working at around the same time as Gutenberg, but there simply isn't enough to evidence to determine who came up with the idea first. 

So let's get back to the modern day and take a look at how a book becomes a book. The Bone Season was printed on FSC certified paper, weighing 50gsm (grams per square meter). FSC is short for Forest Stewardship Council, which promotes the sustainable management of forests; you might have seen their symbol on packets of office supplies. Generally, FSC paper is either recycled, or uses "virgin", non-recycled wood fibre from a well-managed forest (or a combination of both recycled and non-recycled material). One of the biggest arguments I hear in favour of e-readers is that they don't contribute towards deforestation. As an author, I do feel guilty when I think of all the paper that goes into just one copy of my book – the Bone Season paperback has a whopping 452 pages of story, along with all the extra material – but knowing that it's been provided responsibly is a comfort. 

A fun fact about the printing process: the ink on your books and newspapers never truly dries. The printing method used is called cold web offset printing, or non-heatset. The "web" part refers to the use of enormous rolls of paper, called "webs" – they're the size of hay bales! – that are fed through the printing press, as opposed to individual sheets. Webs are commonly used for large print runs, i.e. more than five to ten thousand impressions. In cold printing, the ink is left to dry naturally through the process of absorption and evaporation. That's why you'll often find smudges on your fingers if you've been reading the paper. Hot offset, on the other hand, puts the pages through driers to bake on the colours, leaving the image nice and glossy. That's the method that's generally used for catalogues and magazines.   

Not exactly spider webs.

After being printed, the books are taken to the perfect binder. That's not me flattering it, by the way: it's really called a perfect binder, referring to the method of binding used for mass-market paperbacks. The printed pages of The Bone Season were loaded onto the feeding system, and by the time we arrived at the factory, they were whizzing through the factory at an average binding speed of 18,000 books an hour. The speed is recorded on the monitor as half that number, as everything at Mackays is printed "two up". This means that two small images of each page are printed on each sheet . There's a strict quality control system in place to make sure that readers aren't presented with the same chapter twice in a row. Every feeder is fitted with a camera called an ASIR (Automatic Signature Image Recognition) system, which takes a picture of the first section of the book and ensures that every section after that is the same. If it isn't, the pages are rejected. There were huge plastic crates purely for rejected sections. But don't worry – they all get recycled. 

Forever alone.

Once the sections are collated, a levelling saw is applied, which takes 3mm off the book's spine, ready for the first lot of hot glue to be applied. The sections are put through the "nipping station", which "nips" the cover to the sections. Mackays uses a two-roller system, which determines the thickness of the glue: usually just under 1mm. Side glue is also applied at this stage. Justin told us that these measures were critical in ensuring that books have strong spines, and that pages don't begin to come away once it's been read a few times. If you've ever been on the beach and found your paperback falling to bits under the sun, it's most likely because the glue is being heated up again. Most well-made books won't do that, but occasionally the printers will get complaints about badly bound books; Mackays estimates about twenty a year (a tiny number, considering how many they print per day). 

With the pages glued, the cover is applied. Two covers, both front and back, are printed on an A3-sized sheet of 240gsm stock. What comes out at this stage is two books, like this: 

One become two.

As you can see, the edges of the pages are still rough, and there's still a white border around the cover. 

Here's where the final stage comes in: trimming. The two books are first cut apart, then each one is neatly trimmed. With that done, the books are finished and ready for distribution.

If you want to see the finished product, you can now pre-order the paperback from Waterstones and Barnes & Noble. Thanks so much again to Justin for showing us around the factory!


Thursday, 6 March 2014

It's all just Vine

Hi, everyone – just a quick note to say sorry for the lack of proper blog posts recently. I'm still doing structural edits on The Mime Order, which are taking up a lot of time and headspace (I've decided to rework the ending and several chapters leading up to it, as I did with The Bone Season). During a break, I was thrilled to be able to spend a few hours at CPI's book printing factory today to watch the paperback version of The Bone Season being made. I'll be writing a summary of what I learned about the printing process as soon as the first round of edits are done, but for now, here is a Vine of me stealing a copy of my own book. Hot off the press 'n' all. Thanks so much for sticking with me, as always. 


Thursday, 27 February 2014

Giveaway 2

Good morning!

Thank you all so much for your wonderfully positive feedback for The Mime Order. I'm about halfway through my first edit of the manuscript; I'm hoping to have it finished by mid-March at the latest.

Several new translations of The Bone Season have now come through, so to celebrate the sequel's title reveal, I'm offering you guys the chance to win some copies. Each one will be signed and stamped with the Scion symbol. There's also a T-shirt and a signed poster up for grabs. 

1. A signed, personalised Portuguese paperback. Two winners.
2. A signed
, personalised Hebrew paperback. Two winners.
3. A signed
, personalised German hardback. Two winners.
4. A signed
, personalised Greek paperback. Two winners.
5. A signed
, personalised Polish paperback. Two winners.
6. A signed
, personalised Hungarian paperback. Two winners.
7. A signed
, personalised Norwegian paperback. One winner.
8. A red Bone Season T-shirt. One winner. 
9. Signed "Even a Dreamer" poster. One winner. 
10. A signed, personalised Italian hardback. Three winners.

Please take note of which language each prize is in – last time I had a few people win, only to realise that they wouldn't be able to read the book in the language they'd selected and turn it down. (Of course, if you don't mind not being able to read it and still want it for your personal collection, that's fine, too.) As with the last giveaway, if you win a signed copy in any language, you agree to have it personalised with a name. 

This is an international giveaway. I handle all postage myself, but I can't take responsibility if any prizes are lost in the post. 

This giveaway finishes on 2 April 2014. 


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Thursday, 20 February 2014

The Mime Order

Well, I never thought I'd write a book with a stranger title than The Bone Season, but apparently it was possible: the second book in the series will be called The Mime Order, and I'm delighted to confirm that it will be out on 21st October, 2014. As you can see I'm a tiny bit excited about it. I know it's quite a long wait, but [a] it's nowhere near as long as the wait for Book 1, and [b] there will be teasers and excerpts as we head towards October. Thank you in advance for your patience while I get the edits done. Keep an eye on the new page on this blog (see the toolbar) for updates about the book.


Wednesday, 29 January 2014

Heading east

I'm back from India at last! And my editors and I have finally agreed, after over an hour and a half of debate, on a title for Book 2. And a tentative release date. I hear tell that the title should be in the æther reasonably soon, but watch this space for more definite information. 

Here's what happened during my stay in India. It was my first time in Asia, and it was an absolutely unforgettable trip. 


Dawn over the Bay of Bengal
The first stop on the trip was Chennai, capital of Tamil Nadu in South India. My agent David Godwin and I flew in at about 3AM. The literary festival we were attending was Lit For Life 2014, sponsored by The Hindu newspaper and held at the Sir Mutha Venkatasubba Rao Concert Hall. 

I did two panel events at the festival. One was with bestselling author Ashwin Sanghi, author of such mythological mysteries as The Krishna Key and Chanakya's Chant, which was chaired by comedian Shovon Chowdhury; the other was with David and Jim Crace, whose novel Harvest was shortlisted for the 2013 Man Booker Prize. During the first panel, 'Tall Tales: Fantastical Stories from the East and West', we talked about the influences of religion and mythology on fantasy writing, what introduced us to fantasy and how we built our worlds. In the second, 'The Writing Life', Jim and I spoke about our lives as full-time writers. At the end of the festival, it was announced that Anees Salim had won The Hindu Prize 2013 with his novel Vanity Bagh. The festival was brilliantly organised, and while it's not nearly as large as some other Indian literary events, the small scale meant I could interact with lots of writers and readers.

Chennai is a bustling metropolis with a tropical climate. There was so much going on outside: stray dogs and cattle roaming the streets, tuk-tuks racing between cars, street food cooking, construction work being carried out. We were given a wonderful tour by Meena Kandasamy, who showed us the Victory War Memorial, the port, the remains of Fort St. George, and the vast Marina Beach. The sea along the Bay of Bengal is notoriously rough, and police were chivvying people away from the waves on horseback. Dusk over the beach was beautiful. The marble War Memorial, which marks the beginning of the beach, has several layers of history. Also called the Cupid's bow, it was first constructed to commemorate the victory of the Allies in World War I, but later became a memorial to people from the Madras presidency (an old name for a large part of South India when it was under British colonial rule) who lost their lives during World War II. There are several smaller memorials surrounding the largest one, remembering combatant units that fought during the Indo-Pakistan War of 1971, the Kargil Operation, the 1948 Kashmir aggression and the war with China in 1962.    

Flowers at the War Memorial

New Delhi 

David and I flew out of Chennai straight after our time at the festival was over. I was only in Delhi for two days, mostly for interviews, so I didn't get to see a great deal of India's capital city. The whole place was swathed in thick fog – so much I could barely see out of the window. The climate in northern India was to be cold and foggy for the whole time I was there. (It's like I'm carrying the British winter around like a portable fridge. Argh.) Unfortunately I was also wretchedly sick, probably because I'd forgotten to drink bottled water. While I was in the city, I was invited by Dr. Annie Koshi to speak at St. Mary's School in Safdarjung. The students gave me a lovely welcome and asked some really interesting questions about The Bone Season and writing. I also did a signing at the Ambience Mall. Thanks so much to everyone who came, and sorry if I seemed a bit tired – I really wasn't feeling well, but I still had a wonderful time.   


India is a real assault on all five senses, in the best way possible but Jaipur, capital of Rajasthan and home of the Jaipur Literature Festival, really encapsulates that feeling of sensory overload. A riot of colour, scents and noise, it's known as the Pink City for its innermost buildings, like the Hawa Mahal ("Palace of Winds"). It might be more appropriate to call it the Sunset City, as there are a whole range of warm colours to be seen: orange, yellow, peach, rose, amber. The buildings were painted that way in 1876 by order of Maharaja Ram Singh, who wanted to show hospitality to the Prince of Wales: the man who would later become our very own Bloody King of clairvoyants, Edward VII. The people are still bound by law to keep the walls of the old city pink, but Jaipur now extends well beyond those walls. There are animals aplenty in the region: painted elephants, camels, rhesus macaque and grey langur monkeys, wild pigs and goats, cows and dogs.  

The Jaipur Literature Festival was held at the Diggi Palace – previously a royal palace, now a hotel where it's been held since 2006. A huge amount of people go through the festival every day, and the vast majority of panels were full to bursting. My own panel was simply titled 'The Bone Season', and was moderated by Supriya Nair, associate editor of The Caravan. It was lovely to be able to meet a whole line of readers afterwards!

Sheesh Mahal interior at the Amer Fort
In Jaipur I was able to do some sightseeing with my agent and other authors: first at the Amer Fort, then at the Samode Palace. The Amer Fort (spelled and pronounced Amber Fort) is in Amer, just outside of Jaipur. It was built by Raja Man Singh I in 1592. One of its most beautiful and famous features is the Sheesh Mahal ("Mirror Palace"). I can't pinpoint where this legend came from, but sites about the palace say that in the ancient days of India, queens were forbidden from sleeping outside and seeing the stars. The king had this hall built to solve the problem, inlaid with thousands of intricate glass carvings. We were told that if a single candle was burned, or a single ray of light entered the hall, it would light up all of the tiny mirrors like stars. Tourists are no longer allowed to venture under the mirrored roof, but the exterior walls are beautiful. 

It took us quite a while to reach the Samode Palace, which is located in the Aravalli mountain range in the Shekhawati region, overlooking Samode Village. It was originally built as a fort, but was later converted into a palace and has been a heritage hotel since 1987. While we were there, we saw a huge gathering of grey langur monkeys on the rooftops, as well as a single, slightly grumpy-looking rhesus macaque. We were also able to see a Kathputli puppet show. Kathputli is an art native to Rajasthan that has been around for over a thousand years, and the string-puppets, which are used to tell folk tales, are sold all over Jaipur. They are given voices by the puppeteer using a bamboo reed. The palace itself was just as stunning as the Amer Fort, with its own exquisite Sheesh Mahal and the colourfully painted Durbar Hall. Afterwards, we trooped up 376 steps to the top of the hills.
View of Samode Village

Our flights from Jaipur to Delhi were cancelled due to thick fog  so, feeling a bit like a literary rock band, David, Lara Feigel, Richard Holmes and I all piled into a taxi at 3am to drive there. The journey took about four hours, but we made it in time for our flights home. Namaste!

Thanks so much to Rachna Singh and William Dalrymple for inviting me to the two festivals, to all the volunteers that helped out at both of them, and to the Bloomsbury India team for organising everything. Thanks also to all the people who attended my events and a special shoutout to Siva, who has commented on this blog for a long time and who was kind enough to mention my short story Amrita at my first panel in Chennai.