ghost raven

The Next Big Thing

The Next Big Thing is an ongoing chain letter / blog virus / networking project, where writers answer ten set questions about their current work-in-progress and then tag more writers to do the same a week later.

I was tagged last week by Jason Nahrung, who talked about his amazing-sounding outback vampire novel Blood and Dust; now it’s my turn!

1) What is the working title of your next book?

Raven’s Blood

2) Where did the idea come from for the book?

Earlier this year I published The Obituarist, which is a crime novella focusing on social media, technology and identity theft. I wanted to write another short-ish genre piece, but something completely different that could speak to a different audience. Despite reading and enjoying fantasy for decades, I’d never written any, and I started wondering about that genre and what I could possibly say that hadn’t been said a thousand times before. I thought about the ‘hero’s journey’ concept and that made me think about superheroes – because I love superheroes and will think about them given any excuse – and the possibility of bringing some of the conventions and tropes of the supers genre into a traditional fantasy story.

At the same time, I was getting more engaged with Goodreads while talking up The Obituarist, and noticed that YA fiction is huge at that site, with a massive, passionate readership. So I decided it would be worthwhile trying to write a YA story – not (just) because I want to tap that big market, but because I didn’t have any knowledge or experience in the YA subgenre and would have to learn all about it from scratch. Which is a challenge, and I like being challenged.

Once I’d decided on those genre parameters, and that I wanted a story that focused on a teenaged, female protagonist… I dunno, most of the rest of the idea jumped into my head fully-formed, from the start of the book to its end. Ideas do that; they wait for an opening and then they pounce.

3) What genre does your book fall under?

Fantasy – specifically YA fantasy, and swords-and-magic YA fantasy at that.

4) What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?

This one’s tricky, because I decided early on that I wanted to get away from some of the ethnic, cultural and gender stereotypes of the fantasy genre. My main characters are of sort-of-kind-of Hispanic/Lebanese/Middle Eastern descent – and to my shame, I don’t know many actors from those areas.



The main protagonist is 17-year-old Kember Arrowsmith, a driven young woman who loves theatre and justice. I think Ivana Baquero would be a great choice; she seems to have so much energy and life, but she can still be serious when it counts. And she was great in Pan’s Labyrinth.

The other primary character – not quite antagonist, but close enough – is her father, Mayor Roland Arrowsmith, an ex-soldier in his late 40s or even early 50s. Serious, brooding, grizzled, weary… you know what? Let’s blow all the way through to pure fantasyland and cast Javier Bardem! We have all the budgets! Give us all the Oscars now!

Oh, and we need to throw in Danny Trejo as Jerrick, a hardbitten and weary Sergeant of the Warrant (city Watch)! And Tristan Wilds as Roland’s assistant (who I haven’t named yet)! And then there’s Idana and the Ghost Raven and the Coglord of the Golem-Men and and and oh god make me stop.

5) What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

As inhuman invaders reappear in the city of Crosswater, Kember Arrowsmith searches for the truth about the Ghost Raven, the city’s long-lost masked defender – but can she fight past lies, conspiracies and golem-men to learn his secret?

6) Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

At this stage I’m looking at self-publishing Raven’s Blood as an independent ebook, just as I’ve done with my other projects. But that could certainly change if any publisher/agency wanted to talk to me about putting it out.

You can talk to me anytime, guys.

Our lines are open.

7) How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?

I’m still writing it! I got off to a good start with it in June but then got distracted and lazy; I’m back at work on it now and I want to get a first draft nailed down by January. So about four months of actual writing and four months of foot-dragging. Which is much too long, frankly, and I’ll try to get any sequels done in a more timely fashion.

8) What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

As previously admitted, I’m a complete dunce about the YA fantasy genre; I haven’t even read any of the Harry Potter novels (and still don’t plan to). I’m slowly fixing that, and I did just read (and enjoy) Garth Nix’s Sabriel, but Raven’s Blood isn’t much like that.

You know what it is like? Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns. I never set out in any way to emulate that work, but my story does involve a teenage girl investigating a retired masked crime-fighter as her city begins to crumble into riots and anarchy. There’s a fair amount of overlap in that Venn diagram.

Mind you, I’m not an Islamophobic right-wing fuckbag who can only write female characters as whores, so I think that makes a difference.

9) Who or what inspired you to write this book?

I started reading superhero comics when I was eight.

I started playing Dungeons & Dragons when I was twelve.

You want influences? Those are the big ones.

10) What else about the book might pique the reader’s interest?

This is a book where fantasy-Batman wields a +1 sword to fight reverse-Ringwraiths on the rooftops of Elizabethan London.

If that doesn’t sell you on it, nothing will.

But it’s also a story about making your place in the world, about working out who you are and what matters to you. It’s about friendships, and how they can buckle under pressure. It’s about children and parents, and how doing the opposite of what they want is still defining yourself in their terms. It’s about becoming an adult – because, fool that I might be, I kinda think that’s the point of all YA fiction.

Oh, and it has parkour too. Parkour is cool.

Okay, that’s enough out of me – less blogging, more actual writing of said novel.

But next Wednesday (December 5th), you should check in with these four awesome writers and see what they’re working on:

Also, one last quick aside – I’m guest-tweeting all this week and into next week on @WeMelbourne! Follow for, um, much of the same sort of thing you’d get from my regular Twitter account, but more of it!

6 replies on “The Next Big Thing”

FWIW, I would consider the first three Harry Potter books (i.e. the good ones) to be children’s books, not YA.

As far as I can see (and I don’t pretend to be an expert) the big trend in YA fantasy at the moment seems to be post-Apocalyptic in one sense or another, and not really magic based. Or if not specifically post-Apocalyptic, at least with some kind of reference to today’s world. Think Hunger Games, but also Divergent and Matched and Uglies and Delirium (the only one of these I really liked was Hunger Games).

The last swords-and-magic YA I can remember reading (and it was more swords and less magic) was The Thief. Although I do have Girl of Fire and Thorns on my list.

Not that I’m saying there’s no interest in swords-and-magic YAF – I’m sure there is (along with magic-in-the-real-world), it just doesn’t seem to be the Big Thing at the moment. Personally, I’d welcome more of it – and particularly if it has a slight twist on the usual theme, which yours seems to.

Hi Harriet,

I think I’m permanently fated to always be barking up the wrong trees when it comes to following trends and Big Things.

And that’s okay – there’s more room in those trees, and less bird poop.

Agree. And simply trying to follow the Big Thing usually means you are jumping on the bandwagon too late anyway.

I think there will still be a readership for it, but it is more likely to be a slow build based on word of mouth, rather than the ‘I liked Hunger Games so I’ll like this’ reaction.

I’m sure there are lots of swords-and-magic YA lovers who are TOTALLY over post-Apocalyptic stories.


Being Spanish myself (I’m not sure what a “Hispanic” is), I have no idea how a sort-of-kind-of Hispanic/Lebanese/Middle Eastern person even looks like, but I don’t think I want to know. Sounds like a weird mix, from peoples so different from one another and from places so far away from each other. Could be he or she looks halfway between a Klingon and a Hobbit, or something. Possibly pointy ears and a triple-nostril nose, I dunno. *shudders*

Yeah, with the beneift of hindsight I can see that that’s some pretty lousy phrasing on my part, and for that I apologise.

What I was trying to get at there is that I don’t want to write yet another fantasy novel about white people doing heroic white people things, and so I’d like to have a society of people with darker skin tones be front-and-centre, while not wanting those people to be any kind of analogue for a real-world group or culture. I hadn’t pinned down exactly what that meant when writing the post – still haven’t, really – so I stitched together a number of possible options. I didn’t mean to say that those options were equivalent, but looking at it now… yeah, I more-or-less did do that. That was a mistake.

(Is there a larger question about not reflecting real ethnicity with my made-up ethnicity, so that my book about not-white people just has them talking and acting like Standard Fantasy White People? Yeah, and I’m still thinking about that.)

So yeah, you’re right to call me on that – thank you. And sorry for not getting it right.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *