Tag: book announcement

Queer Werewolves, Traumatic Shapeshifting, and Doomed Heroes

I have been waiting a very long time to write this post. Months at the very least, but really it feels like the culmination of several years of work and waiting and more work and more waiting, and now — now at last the news is here:

Gollancz snaps up three-book deal from Finn Longman in six-figure pre-empt
The Bookseller, 29th Feb 2024

That’s right. I’ve got more books coming. Adult books, specifically, and fantasy, which makes a change! Not just one, not even two, but three medieval retellings being published by Gollancz over the next few years, and I am SO EXCITED to be able to tell you about them at last.

First up is The Wolf and His King, coming in 2025. This is a queer retelling of Bisclavret that, yes, is focused on the homoerotic possibilities of the relationship between Bisclavret and the king, but is also about chronic pain and illness, the mortifying ordeal of being known, and being an exile in your own home. There is a lot of yearning, and some of that yearning is romantic, and some of it is about desperately wanting to be something your body seems determined not to let you become.

I’ve talked before on this blog about how this book uses werewolfism as a metaphor to explore chronic pain, and that’s definitely at the heart of the story — but there’s a lot more than just that in there. It’s about love and feudal interdependence and needing to be understood and trying to build peace. It’s partially in second person and partially in verse; it’s the weird medieval book of my heart, and it felt at times like it would never sell, but it did. And next year, you’ll be able to read it. In fact, you can even pre-order it right now… [edit: or imminently, the links don’t seem to be up yet, but REALLY SOON]

In 2026, I’m bringing you The Animals We Became [working title], which is a queertrans retelling of the Fourth Branch of the Mabinogi, looking at gender, compulsory heterosexuality, and trauma, via nonconsensual shapeshifting. The Fourth Branch is not a nice story, nor a kind one, but it’s been one I’ve been wanting to retell since my first unfinished attempts at doing so back in 2012. It’s a tale that I think has a lot to say about our modern anxieties about gender, autonomy, and category crisis — as well as about the difference between justice and punishment, something I keep finding myself coming back to in my writing.

This book is a newer one, because I sort of sold it on proposal, except that I got carried away writing the sample chapters for Gollancz last year and ended up drafting the entire book. I wrote a post last year about how this process helped me develop new academic ideas about the story as well as new ways of understanding it as a narrative. I’m excited to get back to it and turn that first draft into something more polished and nuanced, but if nothing else, I can promise you that my tagline of “t4t shapeshifting and trauma” remains… very accurate.

And finally, in 2027, I get to share with you To Run With The Hound [working title]. Long-term readers will know that I wrote a book with this title way back in 2018. The book I’ve sold isn’t exactly that book — it’s a proposal for how I intend to completely rewrite that book from the ground up. But yes, this is it: my Cú Chulainn novel, which is sort of a Cú Chulainn/Fer Diad novel with vague Song of Achilles vibes, except it’s also so much more than that. I haven’t written the new version yet, but the plan is to use a nonlinear narrative to explore why Táin Bó Cúailnge is actually a tragedy, and what it means to be doomed by the narrative (but not in the way you thought you were). It will feature a great many feelings about Fer Diad, Láeg, and Cú Chulainn himself.

Obviously, all of these books draw very heavily on my academic background as a medievalist, but TRWTH is the most directly related to my PhD research. Which is just as well, because yes, I am juggling writing and editing these books with a full-time PhD, and I’m not entirely sure I’d recommend that as a state of affairs, but at least the overlap means I can research them both simultaneously.

In the spirit of providing as much information about these books as I can at this point of time, I have anticipated some possible FAQs, and will endeavour to answer them:

How long have you been keeping this secret?

FOREVER. Or, more specifically, since May 19th 2023, which has been killing me. I have not been particularly good at it. I think everyone who knows me IRL has heard the news at this point. But they’ve been strictly instructed to pretend they’re surprised on social media.

When do these books come out?

The Wolf and His King is scheduled for “Spring 2025”, with a holding date of March on the pre-order pages. As soon as that’s actually pinned down, I’ll let you know. The others should follow in 2026 and 2027, as long as there are no hurdles along the way, but I can’t promise there will be no PhD-related delays 🙈

Are these adult books or YA?

Adult. Definitely. I feel this is worth emphasising, especially when we come to Animals, because honestly, Gwydion is awful. I mean, he is the ultimate poor little meow meow, and he is terrible. The Wolf and His King would probably be fine for most teenage readers, but since it’s not aimed at teens, they might not vibe with it so much. The others (especially Animals) are heavier, and deal with darker themes in ways that aren’t particularly suitable for younger readers. (Full content warnings closer to the time, although I recommend googling the Fourth Branch for the general vibes…!) But, you know, I’m not the book police, so use your own discretion.

What genre label would you put on these books?

I think I would describe them as literary fantasy. I don’t know if this is how they would be “officially” labelled. Their fantastical elements — werewolves and shapeshifting and whatever is going on with Cú Chulainn — are crucial parts of the story, but I’m not interested in explaining them, or particularly in developing a magic system for them to exist within. The focus is on the themes and the ways that the stories are told, often with experimental POVs and stylistic choices. Hence the literary part, I guess. But some would probably describe them just as fantasy. That makes sense, too. Historical fantasy almost fits, except that the history we’re dealing with is pseudohistory, and deliberately ambiguous in its exact dates.

Does this mean you’re only going to write adult books now, or will you write more YA?

I don’t have any more YA books contracted once Moth to a Flame comes out in May. That doesn’t mean I’m not going to write any more. I think I’m probably going to take a little break from it, though (juggling these + the full-time PhD is more than enough, honestly), so it might be a couple of years before I have something else lined up on that side of things. I’ve got a couple of ideas I might pursue: a contemporary novel set in a secondary school orchestra, featuring the world’s most codependent string quartet, or a queer pacifist sci-fi Robin Hood retelling that might well be summed up as ‘be gay, do crimes’. Or I might write something else entirely. But we’ll see.

What formats will they be published in?

I believe it’s hardback first, with simultaneous e- and audiobook, and then paperback later. I’ve never had a hardback before, so that will be a novelty.

Will they be available in [x] language?

I have no say over translation rights but I very much hope these books will be picked up and translated into as many languages as possible! If you are a publisher and you want foreign rights, I guess now is the time to talk to Gollancz — hit them up at London Book Fair or something. Especially if you want to translate them into Celtic languages. I would absolutely love to see Animals in Welsh or TRWTH in Irish… listen, I know the market’s small, but it’s worth it. Let’s do it. I believe in us.

How much romance/sex is there in these books?

[ETA: A brief explanatory note, because the response to this book announcement has been fabulous and this post has spread much further than I expected, and therefore beyond my usual readers — The Butterfly Assassin trilogy contains zero romance, and this has been something I’ve been keen to emphasise in my publicity, not least because it’s unusual in YA. So existing readers might be curious whether I’m continuing in the same direction on that front, and that’s why I picked out this question to answer. (Not because I think it is the most important piece of information about any book in general, or anything like that!)]

The Wolf and His King is significantly focused on yearning, although mostly of the unfulfilled variety for the majority of the book. There are some sex scenes, largely poetic rather than explicit. I have told my mum that she’s allowed to read this book, if that helps. I don’t think you could describe it as capital R Romance, or really as romantasy, but it does technically have a HEA, so I guess if you really wanted to stretch your definitions, you could.

The Animals We Became has some sex, and very little romance. It’s a bit more explicit than The Wolf and His King, and I haven’t decided if my mum’s allowed to read it yet. Given the plot of the Fourth Branch, issues surrounding assault, consent, and bodily autonomy are quite central. It’s not what I would call a romantic book.

I really can’t tell you much about To Run With The Hound at this point, because I haven’t written it. I think it will deal a lot with the blurred boundaries of friendship/sworn brotherhood/attraction/enmity. I don’t think romance in the modern sense will be a focus, but it is substantially about complicated relationships between people, and, yeah, also about heroic masculinity and combat/war as a form of intricate ritual.

How much murder is in these books?

Substantially less than is in The Butterfly Assassin trilogy, with the possible exception of To Run With The Hound.

How much am I going to suffer as a reader?

The Wolf and His King is the least angsty, and has a happy ending. The Animals We Became is somewhat more angsty; it has a hopeful but complicated ending. To Run With The Hound is a tragedy, and you’re going to suffer. In other words, it’s a steady run downhill from here to 2027.

How do I get an ARC?

Absolutely no idea, it’s still early days, more edits to do before that’s on the cards, but I imagine you go and ask Gollancz very nicely. When I know more, you will know more.

Do I need to know the original stories to enjoy these books?

No, I have been meticulously testing them on beta readers who are unfamiliar with the original stories, mostly to watch them yell at me when something terrible happens that was absolutely not my idea. However, if you want to do background reading, I’m happy to provide a bibliography.

The Bookseller says it was a 6-figure deal. Does that mean you’re rich now?

Tragically not. There are a lot of misconceptions about how much money authors make, and a lot of assumptions get made based on flashy headlines. Turns out when you spread low six figures over around five years, and pay taxes and agent commissions and things like that, you still end up earning less than minimum wage. On the flip side, though, it’s a very nice supplement to my PhD stipend, and the combination of the two means I can almost afford to have the heating on for more than five hours per day in winter. Almost.

For real, I am extremely grateful for this opportunity and it’s more than I’ve ever earned for my writing before. I don’t want to belittle that fact: I know how it feels to be the writer with a substantially-less-than-six-figure deal watching more financially successful authors complain about how it’s hardly anything and wishing they’d catch themselves on, lol. But writing is still definitely not the business to go into if you want a living wage, so unfortunately I won’t be buying a house any time soon, and I will continue to wince whenever my bike needs yet another pricey repair.

How’s it going, balancing this with the PhD?

It’s going. Sometimes it’s fine. Sometimes I’m very stressed. I think balancing these and also Moth to a Flame was not ideal, but that will all be wrapped up soon, so then I’ll only have two jobs. It helps that these books overlap so much (in content and also thematically) with my PhD research, so everything I learn as part of the PhD helps add depth and colour to the books themselves. The hard part will be holding myself back from adding a bibliography at the back of each book…

Can you tell me more about medieval werewolves?

Yes. Start here.

But what about the accidental vampire novel you were talking about?

The accidental vampire novel is not contracted. Yet. Paranormal romance publishers, hit me up if you’re into incredibly niche romance novels about desperate postgrads and the things they’ll do to a) get PhD funding and b) convince their vampire housemate to suck their blood.

When can I preorder?

For The Wolf and His King: right now! At least in the UK! Still waiting on more retailers, including more who ship internationally, but I highly recommend you go bug them to make it available because I think theoretically they can do that. All the links I’ve got so far are on this page.

For the others, ask me again in a year or so. If that’s too long to wait, remember that Moth to a Flame comes out this May, so you should go grab that in the meantime, and the first two if you haven’t already read them.

I think that is everything, but if I have not answered your question, then please ask it in the comments and I will endeavour to do so!

In general I am just really excited to share this news with you, extremely grateful to my agent Jessica Hare for being willing to take on my weird queer literary adult fantasy novels even though she signed me for The Butterfly Assassin which is really not that, and very glad to have found an editor like Bethan Morgan who is willing to spend three days going back and forth with me about the nuances of words like ‘myth’ and ‘folklore’ when dealing with medieval literature. The future is ahead of us and it is a queer medieval future — and isn’t that glorious?

Announcing The Butterfly Assassin

I’ve been waiting to share this news with you for a long time. Since January. Since 2014. Since the day I decided I was going to be a writer. And now, at long last, I can:

My debut YA novel, The Butterfly Assassin, will be published by Simon and Schuster Children’s Books in May 2022.

Here’s the announcement from Book Brunch:

Full alt-text/transcription to come. Announcement from Book Brunch.

This has been a long journey. The Butterfly Assassin, formerly known as Butterfly of Night, was my fifteenth novel, and the path it took from first draft to agented book was circuitous. We sold the book in January of this year, and I’ve been sitting on the news ever since, which has been torturous — I’m terrible at keeping secrets, which is why I was always useless at being closeted. Even small things, like the fact that we’d changed the title, meant I couldn’t really blog about the editing process at all without giving something away.

But now I can tell you. I can scream it from the rooftops. MY BOOK IS GOING TO BE PUBLISHED. You’re going to be able to read it! (Well, those of you in the UK will. Hoping we’ll sell the foreign rights as well; updates to come.)

We also sold the sequel, which is fabulous. I’ve always conceived of this book as the first in a trilogy: while it doesn’t end on a cliffhanger, the story is very much not over, either. Knowing we’ll get the second book is a huge relief. Here’s hoping we get book three, too; the end of book two’s kind of a bummer without it! I know they say you shouldn’t write sequels before you’ve sold the first book, but, well, that’s never advice I’ve followed, lol.

It has been strange and surreal to achieve something I’ve worked towards for so many years and not be able to talk about it, and the secrecy has contributed to the vague sense that none of it was real and it would all be taken away from me at any moment. The fact that so far it does seem to be actually happening should be reassuring, but I guess that’s anxiety for you… I don’t think it’ll feel real until I hold it in my hands.

Some thanks are due to:

  • Rory Power, who picked me as her mentee for Author Mentor Match and is the reason this book was good enough to get this far. None of this would have happened if she hadn’t supported me through the process of burning it down and starting over. And of course to Alexa Donne, for setting up AMM in the first place.
  • Jessica Hare, my agent, who saw my pitch on #DVPit, who loved and believed in this book, and who is very tolerant of my refusal to stick to any genre or category for more than five minutes. And to Beth Phelan, for founding #DVPit and enabling us to find each other.
  • Amina Youssef, my editor, who bought the book! Without her, it wouldn’t be being published. She’s been very tolerant of my extreme pickiness about punctuation… it turns out I have extremely strong opinions about commas.
  • The AMM Round 6 group chat, Write Club, for their support and gentle peer pressure over the last couple of years, who’ve put up with me yelling for the past eight months while I waited to announce.
  • The Muddle Ages, my medievalist Discord server, ditto.
  • All of this book’s many beta readers (there have been so many over the years), everyone who helped me with the science, and everyone who ever asked me hard questions about the worldbuilding so that I actually had to answer them. I promise you’re all named in the acknowledgements; I’m just trying to keep this post to a reasonable length.

And I’m sure many others! Like I said: it’ll all be in the acknowledgements…

Some FAQs:

What’s the book about?

A traumatised teenage assassin trying and failing to live an ordinary life away from the parents who trained and abused her. And by ‘failing’ I mean she kills somebody in chapter one.

Who’s the target audience?

It’s an upper YA book, so it’s primarily aimed at older teens. It’s probably not suitable for younger teens, though as ever, that kind of thing’s up to the reader’s discretion. As my use of the words ‘traumatised’ and ‘abused’ should suggest, there’s some dark content, though I hope I’ve handled it sensitively and not gratuitously. There’s also a lot of murder. I mean, it’s a book about assassins, so one would expect murder. There’s no sexual content of any sort, but there’s more than enough swearing to disappoint my parents.

Will there be content warnings?

Yes, I’ll add detailed content warnings to my website (here) closer to publication date. I don’t want any readers to be caught out.

Is it fantasy?

No. It’s “speculative” in the sense that it’s set in a fictional city, which exists because the book’s version of our world made some slightly different choices during WW1. That means we have about a century of alternate history going on. It’s set in the near future; most of the tech is realistic if not actually real; and there’s no magic or supernatural happenings.

Is it queer?

Yes. And no. Yes: Isabel is asexual, and several of the other characters are queer. No: these labels are rarely used on-page; Isabel in particular lacks the vocabulary to describe herself in these terms. Some are confirmed by reference to past relationships, and others may become clear in book two. There are no prominent romantic relationships in the book at all, so queerness isn’t a focus of this story, but it’s a lens through which these characters see the world. It’s also something of a queer-norm setup in that homophobia isn’t really a Thing in this setting.

No romance at all?

No. There is, however, a super close ride-or-die friendship, because I believe that platonic relationships can be just as intense and meaningful as romantic ones. Like I said, Isabel’s asexual. I don’t think she’s aromantic, but she hasn’t figured that out yet. It was important to me that her most important relationship here would be a friendship.

Is it coming out in [insert country here]?

At the moment, publication is planned for the UK. We’re going out with foreign rights shortly, though, so hopefully it’ll find a home internationally! I’ll keep you updated, and all the links etc will be on the ‘Books’ page. I think you can buy UK-published books from Book Depository and similar even if they’re not published in your country, so it should be possible to obtain it from further afield.

Will it be paperback or hardback?

Paperback, as far as I’m aware. Most UK YA comes out in paperback only, until you’re a bestseller. I’m cool with this; I mostly buy paperbacks myself, and I want my book to be affordable for as many people as possible, so this seems like a step towards that! (There’ll also be an e-book and I’m hoping for an audiobook as well? I’ll keep you posted.)

How can I pre-order? Should I pre-order?

Yes, please pre-order! It’s great for authors, especially debuts, since it signals to publishers and bookshops that there’s interest. You can find all the links on the Books page, and also a link to Goodreads, if you’d like to add it to your to-read shelf!

How long is it?

Substantially longer than my contract said it was going to be. Close to 95k last time we looked. I have… stopped looking. I won’t know the exact page count until we get closer to it being a real, physical book (!!).

How can I get a proof copy/ARC?

I honestly have no idea at this stage. Drop a note in the comments here if you’re a reviewer or bookstagrammer or booktoker or whatever the term is and you’re interested in getting your hands on a review copy of TBA, and I’ll come back to you when I know more. That way I’ll be able to keep track; if you tell me on Twitter or Instagram, your message will probably get buried, so the blog’s a better bet!

Tell us one thing about the book we can’t guess from the blurb above.

Isabel’s first language is Esperanto, and the language plays a small but significant role throughout the book :)

If I haven’t answered your question, please drop it in the comment section below — I am very happy to answer! I’m trying to anticipate what people will ask, but I’ve never done this before, so I’m just guessing, really.