It’s hard to believe, but last month marked the fifth anniversary of the publication of Sworn Sword. My debut novel and the opening instalment in the Conquest trilogy, it arrived in bookshops across the UK for the first time on 4 August 2011.
Where has all that time gone? It seems like only yesterday that I was a wide-eyed young author preparing to release his first work of fiction into the wild, with little experience of literary festivals, book signings or radio interviews and everything else that comes with promoting a book, or indeed much knowledge of the publishing world in general.
Five years on, having just come back from chairing a masterclass on point of view in historical fiction at the Historical Novel Society’s biennial UK conference in Oxford, I realise not only how much I’ve grown as a public speaker, a perfomer and a teacher, passing on my wisdom and hard-won experience – but most especially how far I’ve travelled as a writer.
Four published novels, each very different to the one before it, sometimes in ways that might not necessarily be obvious to the reader, but which to me as the creator are very clear. Around 600,000 words in total, and that’s not including the many revisions, deleted chapters, alternate endings and discarded drafts that never made it into print, nor the pages upon pages of handwritten outlines, character sketches, diagrams or research notes.
And then there’s The Harrowing. I’m proud of all my books, but I’m proudest of this one, partly because it’s the kind of novel that I’ve always longed to write, but mainly because I feel it represents better than any of my other works the full extent of what I have to offer as a novelist. Of that five year period since 2011, more than half my time has been spent on this one project: researching, drafting, redrafting, re-redrafting, editing, polishing, perfecting.
I’ve adapted and in some aspects entirely reinvented my writing style, learnt to write in different voices, played around with unfamiliar narrative structures and devices, generally challenged myself to do things that I’d never attempted before, and (I believe) emerged from the experience a more complete writer.
So thank you, readers, for your loyalty and your continued support over the last few years, for following me on Facebook and on Twitter, for reading my blog and listening to my podcasts, for turning out to hear me speak at events up and down the country, and for buying each new book that’s released and thereby following me on this exciting and most rewarding creative journey.
Last year the novelist Joanne Harris presented her writer’s manifesto, making twelve promises to her readers. In a similar way, I’d like to end this blog post by outlining my personal writing philosophy and make some pledges of my own for the next five years and beyond, namely:
- to seek new ways of reaching out to my readers and providing you with insights into my writing process;
- to continue challenging myself both technically and creatively;
- to explore alternative, sometimes unconventional perspectives, as well as different narrative forms;
- to innovate in historical fiction and push the boundaries of what the genre can do;
- never to be afraid of going against the current or of breaking conventions in the name of originality;
- ultimately, to create something the likes of which has never been seen before.
Here’s to the future, and all that it may bring!
Today’s the day that The Harrowing is officially released into the big, wide world! Almost three years have passed since I first began working on it, so to see it finally in bookshops is hugely exciting.
I’d like to take the opportunity to thank everyone at Quercus Publishing who has worked on the novel over the course of its long journey from manuscript to finished product, including my editors Jon Watt and Stefanie Bierwerth, as well as Kathryn Taussig, Olivia Mead and Jeska Lyons, whose hard work has been invaluable.
Signed copies of the book are already available in several bookshops across central London, including but not limited to Foyles, Waterstones Piccadilly, Goldsboro Books and the London Review Bookshop. I’ll be continuing my book tour over the coming weeks with events across the country.
The Harrowing is also available online through all the usual retailers, and of course is published in digital formats as well to meet your e-reading needs. If you’re based outside the UK and would like to get your hands on a copy, I recommend ordering from the Book Depository, which is based in England but offers free worldwide delivery.
I hope you enjoy reading The Harrowing as much as I’ve enjoyed writing it, and I look forward to hearing your comments and feedback over the coming weeks and months! Feel free to get in touch with me at any time, either by emailing me via the Contact page, or through Facebook and Twitter.
Those of you reading this who follow me on Facebook and Twitter will most likely have already seen the pictures that I posted recently of the finished hardback edition of The Harrowing, which will very soon be published by Heron Books.
For those who haven’t glimpsed it yet, however, here it is in all its splendour:
As you can see, the jacket design is quite different to those for my Conquest Series, but I feel that it fits the mood of the novel perfectly. In fact I fell in love with the design from the moment I first saw it, and the final product lives up to my expectations in every way possible.
To see this ambitious project come to fruition and to be able to hold the finished book in my hands – nearly three years after I first began work on it and knowing just how many hours’ work is represented in those pages – generates feelings that are difficult to put into words.
Even more exciting is knowing that in just a little over two weeks on Thursday 7 July, this fine tome will appear in bookshops up and down the country. (If you haven’t already done so, you can pre-order your copy either online or from your favourite high street bookshop so that it arrives on the very day that it’s published.)
My events calendar for the summer and autumn is taking shape nicely, with signings and talks planned so far in Nottingham, Bath, Cambridge, Oxford, Marlborough, Newbury and Croydon among other places, and more dates to be announced soon.
If I’m not yet scheduled to appear at a venue near you, please do get in touch with your local bookshop or library and ask them if they can invite me to come and do an event.
Always eager to find new ways to connect with my readers, this week I’m launching my official podcast channel on SoundCloud. In my first podcast I talk about my new novel The Harrowing, which is due to be published in the UK in July (Heron, £16.99).
In the coming weeks and months I’ll also be discussing some of the history behind my novels, including the infamous Harrying of the North, which is the subject of The Harrowing.
I’ll also be talking about this year’s 950th anniversary of the Battle of Hastings, and about the third volume in my Conquest Series, Knights of the Hawk, which is due to be published in the US in paperback format in August (Sourcebooks Landmark, $15.99).
Stay tuned for further podcasting adventures!
The first printed copies of The Harrowing arrived in the post recently, courtesy of my excellent publisher Heron Books, to my immense delight. But this isn’t the finished edition of the book; these are what are known as bound proofs, also sometimes called advance review (or reading) copies (ARCs).
The bound proof is the first time that the author gets to see his or her words on the page, and as such it’s an exciting moment: a preview of how the final article will look. It has a soft cover, whereas the edition that will be hitting bookshops in July will be a hardback, and the text inside doesn’t necessarily bear the author’s final changes, but the typesetting and binding are otherwise exactly as they will appear in the published version.
So if you haven’t already done so, mark Thursday 7 July in your calendar. If you’re super-keen to read the novel as soon as it’s published, you can already pre-order your copy either online or from your favourite local bookshop.
I’m also starting to put together my calendar of talks and book signings for this summer and autumn. As always, check my Events page to see if I’m appearing at a venue near you. If not, please do get in touch with your local bookshop or library and ask them if they can invite me to come and speak.
Keep a look out for more news on The Harrowing in the coming weeks. For now, here’s one final photo to whet your appetite. And so it begins…
Regular visitors to this website can’t fail to have noticed the very large and eye-catching announcement on the home page – my long-awaited fourth novel, The Harrowing, is due to be published on 7 July!
It’ll be available in hardcover and as an ebook, courtesy of my wonderful new publisher Heron Books, an imprint of Quercus Publishing.
Originally conceived as “The Canterbury Tales meets Cormac McCarthy’s The Road“, the novel has been almost three years in the making, but I feel – and I hope you’ll agree when you come to read it – that it’s been worth every moment spent working on it.
Set amidst the turmoil of the Norman Conquest during a particularly brutal episode known as the Harrying of the North, The Harrowing centres upon five English refugees fleeing the devastation who are forced to band together for survival.
You can find the full synopsis here. I’m currently in the process of arranging my book tour for the summer, so keep checking the Events page to see when I’ll be visiting a bookshop, library or literature festival near you!
Featured podcastFor more podcasts, visit James's channel on Soundcloud.
New & forthcoming releases
UK: The Harrowing, 23 March 2017 (paperback).
Czech Rep.: Rozervané království, 13 February 2017 (hardcover).
US: Knights of the Hawk, 2 August 2016 (paperback).