Friday, 28 September 2012

Searching for Excalibur

My author says I've got to squeeze in another post this month, or she won't let me pick out my own name on Monday. But I've been busy galloping around the countryside looking for a new home for us (you wouldn't believe how difficult it is to find a house with a unicorn stable) so I'm almost out of glitter.

That means you'll have to make do with this video of Katherine (filmed in her bathroom, in case you're wondering - the sea horses you can see dangling over her left shoulder are closely related to unicorns). She thinks she's found Excalibur... but I'm not so sure.

(Be careful near the end, by the way, or you might find yourself desperately seeking a bookshop... sorry, should have told you that before you watched it!)

If you fancy a free book, there's still two days left to name the unicorn for a chance to win signed copies of Sword of Light and the new one Lance of Truth, published Monday... when I shall hopefully HAVE A NAME.

So excited. What kind of naming ceremony do you think a unicorn should have?

Monday, 17 September 2012

Judging a book by its cover

Covers can be worrying for authors, because they are the first thing your readers will see of your book. A brilliant story with a boring cover by an unknown author might never be picked off the shelf – or, more likely – never be put on the shelf in the first place, since booksellers are also influenced strongly by covers as they don’t have time to read all the books they stock.

In a few rare cases, the author’s name might be enough to take the place of an interesting design. Would you pick up this book if it was written by Joe Bloggs? This is an example of a book where a fussy cover might actually hide the thing that will really sell it - i.e. the author's name.

Muse disclaimer: We understand this book is for adults and has nothing to do with boy wizards.

Katherine's publisher has taken a more literal approach using scenes from the books. This is a bit more risky than a cover with a big black cross on it, since readers are quick to point out things that don’t match the story, like Rhianna’s sword mysteriously changing hands... though of course they only notice that after they’ve read the book, and so the cover has already done its job by then.

In Book 2 Lance of Truth (coming Oct 1st) you'll notice Rhianna is still carrying Excalibur in her right hand:

But by this time she’s had some knightly training, so that’s fine. I’ve actually made her ambidextrous to explain why in Books 3 and 4 (coming next year), you should see the Sword magically change hands…

Here’s a very early glimpse, specially for unicorn-fans, of the Book 3 cover:

(Muse: I think those dragons look very fierce, so I’m glad I’m not in it!)

The other lovely thing about paper editions of books, rather than ebooks, is that their covers can have shiny parts to catch your eye, like the title of the brand new paperback of Sword of Light (coming Oct 1st):

and this gold foiled new edition of Song Quest:

So what do YOU look for when you choose a book to read from the shelf? Interesting cover picture? Mysterious cover image? Author’s name? Title? Glitter? Something else?

Let the Muse know!

Saturday, 8 September 2012

A Left-Handed Warrior

One of the lovely things about writing books for younger readers is seeing someone dressed up as one of your characters. (If you want the truth, my author is still a big kid herself and can sometimes to be found at science fiction and fantasy conventions where there's an excuse to dress up as Queen Guinevere… but more of that later!) Today I wanted to show you this great snap of Cecily inspired by the heroine of my new series, Rhianna Pendragon:

Cecily Pendragon
(photo used by kind permission of Cecily's mum)

You’ll note the Pendragon shield, complete with red dragon, based on King Arthur’s shield from "Sword of Light", which is rather battered since the king was using it in battle when the dark knight Mordred killed him. After the battle, Merlin takes Arthur's body through the enchanted mists to Avalon, where he gives the shield to Rhianna, who has been growing up in hiding with Lord Avallach's fairy people. But a shield isn't much use on its own, so she sets out on a quest for her father’s sword Excalibur, which his knights threw into a lake after the battle to stop Mordred getting hold of it... and as you can see from the picture, she soon succeeds in getting it back from the Lady of the Lake.

Did you spot the unusual thing in this photo? (apart from the fact Cecily's a girl-knight, and not a boy-knight, of course). She must have read the book closely, because she’s got the shield on her right arm, which means she must be holding her sword in her left hand, which Rhianna naturally does when she first trains with wooden blades against the squires who have been teasing her:

   "Ow!" yelled Gareth, as she struck him on the elbow, making him drop his replacement weapon. "Not fair, sir! She changed hands."
   Sir Bors smiled. "Left-handed, eh? That can be an advantage in a battle. The enemy don't expect it. Stop whining, boy, and let that be a lesson to you. Saxons have left hands too, you know. And when you meet them, they won't be using wooden blades. Now then, again!"

If you're very eagle-eyed, you'll notice the cover artist wasn’t quite so accurate:

spot the deliberate mistake

It wasn’t his fault! Neither I nor my editor thought to tell him Rhianna is left-handed, and so he assumed (like the majority of people) that she would carry Excalibur in her right-hand, whereas I (being left-handed myself) naturally assumed he would paint her left-handed… so here’s a bit of unicorn-magic to show you what the "Sword of Light" cover might look like in a left-handed world:

left-handed Rhianna.

I had to do a bit of hasty writing for Book 2 to explain… I decided that the knights of Camelot would have a chivalrous code, which says they must fight at tournaments with their wepons in their right hands to make the duels and jousts fair. So after training with the squires, Rhianna learns how to fight with Excalibur in either hand - which gives her an advantage in battle over her evil cousin Mordred, who lost his sword hand when King Arthur chopped it off in their final duel.

I first came across left-handed warriors in Susan Price’s "The Sterkarm Handshake", a brilliant time travel story about a 16th century border clan, who were genetically inclined to be left-handed and built their tower strongholds with the spiral staircases winding the opposite way to normal so they could defend them more easily against raiders. They also had a reputation for being dangerous people to make a bargan with – the “Sterkarm Handshake” of the title being a dagger, slipped quietly between your ribs as you shake a Sterkarm’s (empty) right hand. Rhianna Pendragon, of course, being brought up with her father’s knightly code, would do nothing of the sort to her friends! But she soon learns not to worry about which hand she uses to hold her sword when a dragon attacks, which keeps her alive to continue her quest for the other three magical Lights - the Lance of Truth, the Crown of Dreams, and the Grail of Stars.

Thank you, Cecily, for inspiring this blog post!


"Sword of Light", Book 1 of the Pendragon Legacy, is available now in hardback and also for preorder in paperback.

Book 2 "Lance of Truth" will be published on 1st October and is now available for preorder in hardback.

Join Rhianna Pendragon and Katherine Roberts over at the History Girls on 6th October for a special Dark Age Breakfast to launch Lance of Truth!


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