Thursday, July 16, 2020

Sneak preview for CITY OF VENGEANCE, my historical crime fiction debut coming in 2021

Thought I'd offer this sneak preview of my crime fiction debut CITY OF VENGEANCE, which Pan Macmillan is unleashing early in 2021. Publishers issue blurbs for their forthcoming titles when selling translation rights round the world, and I stumbled across this advance blurb in the Pan Mac rights catalogue online [click the image to make it bigger!]. For absolute accuracy, CITY OF VENGEANCE is set in the Winter, 1537 - but the rest is all true. Not long now until the cover is revealed...

Sunday, June 14, 2020

The book that first inspired CITY OF VENGEANCE, my crime fiction debut, coming 2021 from Macmillan

I've always been a crime writer, but spent a lot of my career before CITY OF VENGEANCE writing other stories. Crime was almost always the narrative engine for my stories, whether in science fiction novels, screenwriting episodes of Doctors for the BBC, or scripting graphic novels and comics.

Like so many crime writers before me, I grew up reading mystery stories. I loved the brain-teasing puzzle element of those narratives, but also the way they brought alive the time and place in which they were set, and how another story wasalways  being told alongside the questions of whodunnit, howdunnit, or whydunnit?

CITY OF VENGEANCE has been a long time coming. I started the novel in 2017, thanks to the push provided by a Robert Louis Stevenson Fellowship from the Scottish Book Trust and Creative Scotland. The fellowship gave me a month largely free to write, and in that precious time I was able to draft what became the first fifty pages.

The book that started it all...
But the origins of my crime fiction debut go back a lot further, to the 1990s in fact. I was working as a comics editor in London, but couldn't resist the lure of bookshops in the English capital. One day I wandered into a shop near the British Museum, just browsing in kill some times, with no idea what I might find there.

One book caught my eye: Criminal Justice and Crime in Late Renaissance Florence 1537-1609, by John K. Brackett. Published by Cambridge University Press, it was a monograph that did what it said on the cover, exploring criminal justice in 16th Century Florence.

Glancing through the text, one sentence leapt out at me. Writing about the Otto di Guardia e Balia, the most powerful criminal court in Florence, Brackett wrote that this law enforcement organization with its investigating officers and constables was 'roughly comparable to that of a modern police force'.

In moments my writer's brain was working overtime, imagining what a police procedural set in late Renaissance Florence might be like. How did criminal justice work in this period? What was crime like in the 16th Century? What sort of mysteries would law enforcers have to solve?

I bought the Brackett book and set to reading it on my way home. One thing quickly became apparent: I would need to do an awful lot more research before I could dream of attempting to write such a novel. I hadn't even visited the city of Florence back then.

My heavily annotated copy of Brackett's inspirational book!

The fact I didn't start writing CITY OF VENGEANCE until 2017 tells you how long the journey has been to see this novel approach fruition, and why its publication by Pan Macmillan means so much to me. But I owe a debt of thanks to John K Brackett and his monograph, which started me along the path that lead to creating Cesare Aldo...

Thursday, September 19, 2019

News: I've signed a two-book deal with Pan Macmillan for my Cesare Aldo historical mystery series set in late Renaissance Florence

I'll be blogging more about this soon, but here's the  press release text as featured by British publishing industry weekly The Bookseller today:
Pan Mac scoops historical crime novel in two-book deal 

Pan Macmillan has landed the first novel in a historical crime fiction series from D V Bishop.

Alex Saunders, fiction editor at Pan Macmillan acquired world rights to City of Vengeance, which won the Pitch Perfect competition at Bloody Scotland 2018, in a two-book deal from Jenny Brown at Jenny Brown Associates. It is scheduled for publication in February 2021.

The book is set against the backdrop of the Medici dynasty in 1530s Renaissance Florence, following the case of a prominent Jewish moneylender who is found murdered. Cesare Aldo, a former soldier and now an officer of the city's most powerful criminal court, is given four days to solve the murder.

Its synopsis explains: “In the course of his investigations, Aldo uncovers a plot to overthrow the ruler of Florence, Alessandro de' Medici. If the Duke falls, it will endanger the whole city. But a rival officer of the court is trying to uncover the secrets of Aldo’s private life to bring him down. Can Aldo stop the conspiracy before anyone else dies, or will his own secrets destroy him first?”

Saunders said: “I am so excited to be welcoming D V Bishop to the Pan Macmillan list. He has written a wonderful historical thriller set in Renaissance Florence and from the moment I started reading I was impressed by his confident storytelling. City of Vengeance is an explosive start to an electrifying new series, and Cesare Aldo is a remarkable character who stays with you long after the final page has been turned.”

Bishop, a screenwriter and dramatist, added: “I’m proud and honoured to sign with Pan Macmillan, publisher of such wonderful writers as C J Sansom, Ann Cleeves, and the late, great Colin Dexter. There couldn’t be a better home for Cesare Aldo as he investigates murders, the Medici, and all manner of Machiavellian machinations among the palazzos and piazzas of Renaissance Florence.”

Thursday, May 02, 2019

Doctor Who and the Brexit Monstrosity

In February this year BBC Audio released The Elysian Blade, a Doctor Who talking book written by me. Read by Frazer Hines, it features the Second Doctor [played on screen by Patrick Troughton in the 1960s] with his companions Jamie and Victoria.

They take on a pair of charlatans who dupe people into harming themselves in exchange for false nostalgia. Sacrifice your senses, the villains say, and you can live in some golden world of the past, untroubled by things that disturb you.

It's a story about lies.
It's a story about self-delusion.
But most of all, it's a story about Brexit.

I've written for Doctor Who spin-offs in the past. My first Doctor Who novel was published by Virgin Books way back in 1996; three more followed from BBC Books in 2002, 2003 and 2004. I've also written Doctor Who audio dramas for Big Finish Productions, the last of those - Enemy of the Daleks - released in 2009.

All of my writing is, inevitably, suffused with my own views but mostly that tends to be politics with a small p. The Elysian Blade makes no bones about the fact it is a metaphor for Brexit. I voted to remain in the EU in 2016 because I believed it made no sense to abandon the opportunities offered by the UK being part of the European Union.

Since the referendum result, much has been revealed about the tactics and falsehoods spread by those running the various Leave campaigns - little of it good. I won't bother to restate them all, because most people's view of Brexit has long since solidified to the point where arguing changes few minds. But I am still a writer, with things to say.

In March 2018, I pitched three ideas for a Second Doctor audio original. One of them - with the working title 'Senseless' - was chosen by BBC Audio for further development. At that stage it was only a single paragraph long, and I hadn't realised what it was really about. Not yet. Here is the original pitch:
The TARDIS arrives on a world where everyone is missing at least one of their senses - but this is no natural phenomenon. The cause is Elysian Fields, a facility where you choose between the Angel of Forgetting and the Blade of Longing. One of them deletes a memory you never wish to recall again; the other lets you relive a long long moment from your past. As payment you must surrender one of your senses - forever.

I teach creative writing at a Scottish university. In one of my classes I talk about stories having a promise and a metaphor. When you as writer make a contract with your reader, what are you promising them? And what is the metaphor underpinning your narrative, what is it that gives your story meaning?

Having been asked to develop 'Senseless' into a two-page synopsis, I practised what I preach in class and thought about the promise of my story - and pondered for what was it a metaphor? And then it hit me: I was writing about Brexit.

I was writing about lies and the false promise of a better future. I was writing about power-hungry charlatans who will say and do anything for their own gain.

Now I had a choice. I could bury the metaphor, make sure the subtext remained so deep that few other people - if anyone - would recognise it. Or I could lean into my metaphor, make sure it was available to find for those willing or able to hear it.

I didn't want to write a didactic anti-Brexit rant. that wouldn't do anyone any good. But I recognised this metaphor had the power to add depth and meaning to my story.

So I opted to lean into it. I would write Doctor Who and the Brexit Monstrosity.

Once that decision was made, everything else fell into place. I needed a dodgy duo to sell their lies and mendacity to the colonists of the unnamed world in my story. Recent British politics have had plenty of craven opportunists, so casting was easy.

And it all still had to work as a Doctor Who story. It needed to have adventure and jeopardy, it needed to embody everything that is great about the Doctor - how he is never cowardly or cruel, how he fights for those unable to fight for themselves, how he uses the power of words and intelligence to overcome the brutality and falsehoods of others.

After several drafts the project was signed off last summer, and recorded with Frazer Hines - who played Jamie in Doctor Who during the 1960s - as reader. The Elysian Blade was released on CD and download in February this year, just seven weeks before Britain was due to leave the EU.

Three months on, the Brexit process has ground to a halt. Britain still hasn't left, with the ill-prepared exit proving to be an impossible task for the UK Government thus far.

Doctor Who Magazine #537 © Panini UK Ltd 2019

The Elysian Blade has had a few reviews, all very positive. So far I've only seen one  that explicitly noted the Brexit subtext lurking beneath my story - and that's fine. It means I did my job as a writer. I didn't shove my views down people's throats, I let them discover the metaphor for themselves.

So, why am I making the implicit explicit now? Ego, perhaps. Will outing The Elysian Blade as an anti-Brexit narrative mean extra sales? Probably not. But I am proud of the story, and I'd like more people to hear it. So here's a tiny excerpt from what I wrote:
'You promised these people they could red if anything they didn't like about their lives, or themselves. You convinced them they could travel back to some imaginary time in the past when they were happy, when everything was simpler, when nothing challenged them or made them uneasy. 

But life isn't like that. You have to live in here and now. You make things better by facing them, not by holding on to some idealised version of a past that never existed.'

Sunday, February 25, 2018

My self-publishing experiment - Endeavour: The Complete Inspector Morse - hits a wee landmark

My eBook ENDEAVOUR: The Complete Inspector Morse has just passed 750 sales. Not much in publishing terms, but it's a wee landmark for a £4.99 eBook with no marketing, no print version to enhance visibility, and a niche audience.

ENDEAVOUR: The Complete Inspector Morse is an unoffical non-fiction guide to the TV series Endeavour and Inspector Morse, to Colin Dexter's original novels and short stories, plus Morse on radio and stage.

All the non-Endeavour material in the eBook had previously been published as The Complete Inspector Morse [TCIM] by Reynolds & Hearn across four editions, and then by Titan Books in a new 2011 edition. Those were all print only, a mix of paperback and hardback.

Titan later issued an eBook of TCIM but numerous reviews berated the low quality of its formatting. A reference text should enable readers to dip in and out of an eBook, not force them to scroll through hundreds of unchaptered pages to find what they seek.

In 2016 Titan confirmed it would not commission a new edition, but the company declined to revert rights in the book until the physical print run had sold out. That was estimated for 2017, and under the terms of my contract, Titan could wait another two years before reverting my rights.

I signed my original contract with Reynolds & Hearn in 2001, long before eBooks. R&H did obtain the electronic rights, but only on a non-exclusive basis. After some prodding Titan confirmed I could publish my own eBook, if I wished.

For the cover image, a fellow Endeavour enthusiast provided a photo taken during filming in Oxford - instead of paying a fee, they suggested I make a donation to charity. I happily paid Caroline Goldsmith to prep the eBook for upload [I recommend her!]. 

I made the eBook an Amazon exclusive priced at £4.99 - not cheap for a non-fiction eBook. I published ENDEAVOUR: The Complete Inspector Morse on December 23rd 2016, just ahead of the 30th anniversary of Morse first appearing on British TV.

After Amazon took its cut, I estimated the eBook needed to sell 100 copies to break even. Happily it passed that a year ago, thanks to Endeavour Series 4 being broadcast.

To my surprise, ENDEAVOUR: The Complete Inspector Morse has continued selling, even when new episodes of Endeavour aren't on screen [which is most of the year]. It's a steady wee earner, as the  sales chart above demonstrates.

Despite being only an eBook, I've made far more royalties from this edition over the past year than I did from the traditionally published print versions of TCIM. New episodes of Endeavour makes a big difference, but so does 70% royalties instead of 7-10%!

After some gentle prodding Titan have now reverted all rights in the book, meaning I can publish the next edition in print and eBook if I choose. There's plenty of new material to add, with 10 new episodes of Endeavour and an Inspector Morse radio play.

But for now I'm happy to enjoy a wee landmark, and look forward to watching another new episode of Endeavour on ITV tonight. Onwards!

Sunday, January 21, 2018

My PLR top ten titles for July 2016 - June 2017

Every year the Public Lending Right sends registered authors a statement estimating how many times their books were borrowed from UK libraries. To compensate for lost sales, the PLR pays 8.2 pence per loan. There's a maximum payment threshold [£6600] to prevent bestselling authors from draining the PLR's precious coffers.

About 22,000 authors get payments for the most recent PLR period [July 2016 - June 2017], with 195 on the maximum of £6600. The fate of the PLR is in flux, as cash-strapped councils close libraries and eBooks alter reading habits. But authors still welcome this new year bonus.

It is free to register your books for PLR - just go here. Even if you only wrote [or drew, in the case of comics artist] part of a collection, you can still register your bit. I represent a tiny 3% of the Heavy Metal Dredd graphic novel, but it makes me a few pennies. Like a fool, I forgot to complete registration for the only new book I had published in the most recent PLR period - tsk!

This year's top ten for my titles features several 2000AD-related tomes, two  editions of the same Doctor Who novel, a Warhammer tie-in, and a hugely unsuccessful non-fiction book about the films of Michael Caine. That last book sold so badly, I think more people have read library copies over the past 15 years than ever bought the damned thing when it first came out in 2003.

It's a nice surprise to the Heroes Reborn tie-in to which I contributed appear on this list. I wrote an ebook novella and didn't expect anything to come of that, but it was reprinted by Titan with two other novellas from the series as a wee omnibus. Anyway, here are my top ten titles in librares for July 2016 - June 2017 (with previous year's placing in brackets).

1. (2) Heavy Metal Dredd (graphic novel, published 2009)
2. (1) Fiends of the Eastern Front: Stalingrad (graphic novel, 2010)
3. (-) The Complete Inspector Morse (2006)
4. (6) Doctor Who: Amorality Tale (2002)
5. (-) Thrill-Power Overload (2007)
6. (-) Judge Dredd: Kingdom of the Blind (200?)
7. (5) Starring Michael Caine (2003)
8. (-) Heroes Reborn (2016)
9. (8) A Massacre in Marienburg (2008)
10. (4) Doctor Who: Amorality Tale (new edition, 2015) )

Thursday, May 04, 2017

BLAZING BATTLE ACTION published as an eBook

In 2003 I wrote a behind the scenes account of how trail-blazing British war comic Battle was created and nurtured, as told by those who were there. Commissioned for the Judge Dredd Megazine by then-editor Alan Barnes, it was published as four articles. And there the story remained, trapped inside back issues, in danger of being forgotten all over again - until now.

I have just published an ebook of BLAZING BATTLE ACTION, available exclusively via Amazon. It is a text-only edition because I do not own the rights to any images from the relevant comics. The prose has been lightly edited and updated to reflect recent reprints of material from the pages of Battle. Hopefully more gems from the comic’s pages will be made available for a new generation of readers to enjoy afresh.

It's no exaggeration to say Battle changed the face of British comics. Launched in 1975 by writers John Wagner and Pat Mills with editor Dave Hunt, Battle hacked a path through the jungle of anodyne, lacklustre weeklies throttling the life from the industry at the time. It showed there was a market for harder-hitting, more challenging comics, paving a way for the controversial, short-lived Action and for the iconic science fiction anthology 2000AD.

In its pages Battle published one of the greatest stories ever told in British comics - Charley's War. Meticulously researched by writer Pat Mills and painstakingly illustrated by Joe Colquhoun, Charley's War was a landmark narrative that has stood the test of time and remains arguably the best work by either creator.

Battle was a trailblazing title that unearthed a new generation of British talent, but the comic suffered a slow death during the 1980s while 2000AD was enjoying its golden age. Dead comics soon get forgotten, and their story dies with them - but BLAZING BATTLE ACTION might help keep this particular story alive.

As with ENDEAVOUR: The Complete Inspector Morse, I employed the services of digital maven Caroline Goldsmith to make this ebook fit for purpose. She’s very helpful and reasonably priced, I can recommend her services if you’re too time-poor [or, like me, lazy] to learn formatting - any mistakes in BBA are my fault.

The BLAZING BATTLE ACTION ebook is available for just £1.99 on Amazon - or free to read for those who subscribe to Kindle Unlimited. I don’t expect to make much money, as it’s a niche topic, and I’ll be happy if this edition eventually covers its costs. But I believed the story deserves to be readily available. 

If you loved reading Battle back in the day, or enjoyed the history of 2000AD I co-wrote [THRILL-POWER OVERLOAD, now available in a hefty new hardback edition!], try BLAZING BATTLE ACTION. It’s a right riveting read - but then, I would say that. So here's what a couple of readers said about the original articles:
"Text features in the Megazine have been essential reading for many years ... probably the best of them have been David Bishop's histories of 2000AD (Thrill-Power Overload) and Battle (the most shorter, but just as fascinating Blazing Battle Action" - Grant Goggans, Thrill-Powered Thursday.

"If you read Battle and enjoyed Thrill-Power Overload, this is a great little history lesson" - Simeon Brewer, The Judge Dredd Megazine Odyssey.
BLAZING BATTLE ACTION ebook is available now exclusively on Amazon.