All the latest news about Conor Kostick, author of the books Epic and Saga.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

A Note from Conor about Treasure Trap

My publishers like to mention in the author blurb that I once worked at Treasure Trap. I can understand why this is a fact worth commenting on, because suggests I might have a kind of insiders view of fantasy games. And perhaps my experiences there did help with Epic. But in any case, Treasure Trap is intrinsically interesting in its own right. It was a live action roleplaying (LARP) company, based at Peckforton Castle, Cheshire. As far as I know, it was the first commercial attempt to establish a live action roleplaying game. The Treasure Trap rules - which were a kind of cross between Runequest and D&D, adapted for real physical combat - have been taken up and have evolved into various LARP games today, especially in the UK.

I was very fortunate to get involved, being only aged 19 at the time. But the people setting up the game came to Chester Wargames group and recruited a group of us to test the rules and offer suggestions. So my friends and I, including Andrew, had a great deal of fun running around dark corridors, jumping out dressed as a luminous skeleton etc. And when the opportunity arose, I gladly moved in to the castle to be there full time.

There is currently a documentary team making a film about a LARP game in Durham and as part of it, they interviewed me and some other former TTers. You can see a taster clip above, with some footage of the castle which arose from a visit by Blue Peter. Hopefully Cosmic Joke will get the funds they need to complete the documentary because it's a story that deserves to be told. From my perspective, it is a story about how although the 1980s in the UK was in general a terrible decade (and I just don't understand the phenomenon of 80s nights, unless it is to mock the clothing and the chart music), there were pockets of wild escapist fun.

Edda is due August 2011

Edda by Conor Kostick

Here is he first picture of the proof cover. The art is once again by the excellent Tony Sahara. The book will have 440 pages making it easily the longest book in the series. It is due for release August 2011.

Saturday, October 09, 2010

A letter from Conor about audiobook piracy

Andrew recently drew my attention to the fact that an audio version of Saga was available via pirate hosts based in China and Russia. It is available from the kind of websites that make offer downloads of new films even before they've been officially released. This version of Saga is read by Kristin Allison and here is a clip from it: the preface.

Now I really approve of audio books and was thrilled when Oetinger made absolutely splendid versions of Epic and Saga for the German language. They used professional actors, composed music and created sound effects for the books.

My main reason for liking audiobooks isn't that they generate much by way of royalties, what I really like is the fact that people who have difficulty reading - perhaps because of visual difficulties - can enjoy the books. And that is what has happened in this case. After doing some research Andrew found that the recordings were made for the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (NLS)

So of course I'm pleased that Saga is available to listen to. But there is a problem with the fact that the audio recording has found its way onto the net. And it's the same problem that arises in the music and film industry. If creative works are given away for free to everyone (and not just those with certain special needs for whom the provision of such works is entirely reasonable), how will artists, actors, etc be supported? One of the aspects to this question that clouds the issue is that there is a lot of hypocrisy spoken on it by the big hitters. I don't have a lot of sympathy for the position of the multinationals; for years they kept prices artificially high for records and CDs in the west and their 'home taping is killing music' campaign was risible. But if the artist is to be able to give up their day job and produce more works of art, they should be getting some remuneration from downloads.

With increased use of hand held reading devices, writers are going to have to get to grips with the issue of how they get remunerated from downloads of their text. But lets stick to audio for the moment. If it were up to me, the model I'd choose would be that of relying on the goodwill of the listener to make a modest donation if they enjoyed the book. In other words I'd like the download to be freely available and there be a simple way of making a direct donation to the author. Most people probably won't bother donating, but those that do will understand the need to assist the writer and might actually make a noticeable difference. After all, a writer typically gets about ten percent royalty from a book sale (actually the mean royalty is probably a bit less), i.e. for a $10 book, the writer gets a dollar. If ten people download the audiobook and only one makes a donation of $10, that's generated as much as the conventional route (my friend Oisin McGann has this kind of model in mind over at his website where you can download his terrific ebook for free, with this difference, that he doesn't even bother to have a button you can press to make a donation! It would be an interesting experiment if he did).

In any case, it is not up to me in the sense that while I hold the copyright to my books, my publishers, in this case O'Brien Press, own the license to sell the book world wide (they sublicense to other publishers in territories it is hard for them to distribute to). O'Brien Press are great when it comes to giving permission for audiobooks to be made for free to schools and organisations for the visually impaired. For example, with their permission I've read and recorded Move for St Joseph's school for the visually impaired (and if any similar school or organisation wants a copy, I'm happy to talk to O'Brien about sending them one, just leave a comment or email Andrew).

So my model is impractical for books I've already sold to a publisher and unless I was capable of generating much more direct web interest than I could do at present, it's a pointless one for new books because hardly anyone will notice the new title.

What would I like the publishers to do about commercial audiobooks (as opposed to ones given to certain organisations for private use)? I think the second best model is to learn from the disastrous experience of the music industry and not try to fight the pirates by suppressing illegal distribution, that's a battle which will not be won. Instead I think that publishers should have some sort of collective internet clearing system where for a small fee (not much bigger than the fee the pirates ask for their 'gold' service or whatever they call it) they provide a better, more attractive, service than the pirates can. Fast downloads of high quality productions should be available for the fee payer. And the pool of income generated by these fees should then be distributed to each publisher in proportion to the number of downloads of their work. The writer and the publisher should have an agreement on how to split such a source of income and I've seen contracts with regard to text downloads that suggest a 50-50 split. That seems reasonable to me. Unlike a book, where the publisher deserves a greater slice of the income because they have to print, distribute, publicise etc., a download involves very little outlay by the publisher.

Returning to the audiobook of Saga that has been pirated, overall I feel it's a shame that a very worthy initiative turns out to be the source of the pirate copy. Someone has taken advantage of a legitimate reason to give a recording away for free to try to make money for themselves. And I'm sure the same source of audiobooks is providing pirates with much better sellers than Saga.


Friday, September 17, 2010

A letter from Conor Kostick with a detective story AND news of Edda

Conor Kostick reading Gerald of Wales's Topographia Hibernica, picture by Jurga Rakauskaite
Conor Kostick reading Gerald of Wales's Topograpia Hibernica. Picture by Jurga Rakauskaite.

Conor has sent this letter describing some exciting historical detective work he has been doing. In addition there is the latest news about Edda, the sequel to Epic and Saga.

Farmleigh, the official Irish State Guest House, located in Phoenix Park, has a writer-in-residency scheme and, as Andrew wrote earlier in this blog, this summer I was fortunate enough to be awarded the position. One of the most positive aspects of the award was having access an amazing library.

Benjamin Guinness, the Third Earl of Iveagh, was a manuscript and book collector, with a particular interest in Irish rarities. His library consists of over 5,000 items and is a treasure trove of rare editions. It was one of the most valuable private collections in the Ireland. It is also a treasure trove that may now be perused by the public, because in November 2009 it became part of Marsh’s Library, Dublin.

Here are all sorts of collectable items: first editions of famous works of Irish literature abound. The Yeats anthology that I was shown had annotations by the poet in the margins of his work. But I rapidly passed over Ulysses, Gulliver’s Travels etc, because for the historian there are some absolutely first rate sources that have been under-utilised up to now due to the library being in private hands.

For example, the library contains a chest containing thirty years worth of papers of Daniel Charles O’Connell, uncle of a very notable Irish political figure: Daniel O’Connell. Among this collection is the triumphant letter that Daniel O’Connell wrote to his wife on the day, 24 March 1829, that the Roman Catholic Relief Act was passed, repealing the remaining Penal Laws and allowing Catholics to be represented in Westminster (albeit, as James Connolly pointed out in Labour in Irish History, at the cost of disenfranchising the poor Protestant peasantry, who fell below the new requirements for the franchise). Irish and UK scholars of the early nineteenth century should be rushing down to Farmleigh.

So too should historians of the early twentieth century. For there is a collection of Sir Roger Casement’s letters here that deserve more attention than they have received up to now. For those interested in the Gaelic Revival and the Irish theatre, there are archive materials relating to Lennox Robinson. There are also rare periodicals, including titles not found in the National Library or Trinity College.

Knowing that I have an interest in medieval history, the librarian, Julie Cummins, placed before me an astonishing manuscript. Reading it made me feel like a character in a Dan Brown book. For a start, it has a handwritten copy of Edmund Campion’s ‘Two Bookes of the Histories of Ireland’ (1570) and early-mdernists might well wish to check these leaves against the most recent edition of that work. Edmund Campion drew heavily and rather over-credulously on Gerald of Wales as one of his two sources and bound to Campion’s history is a late thirteenth century manuscript of the Topographia Hibernica.

This work by Gerald of Wales is a notorious book full of generally unflattering annectodes about the behaviour of the Irish; it has plenty of stories of monsters and miracles and also – something not generally appreciated – sharp polemics against Norman soldiery who dared despoil the church, along with examples of the divine punishments meted out to them. For all its faults, the Topographia is a crucial source for medieval Irish history and this copy intrigued me. It has twenty-seven leaves, ten paper, seventeen vellum. The initials in the vellum section are in red and blue, some of them illuminated with modest skill.

Having checked recent articles and books concerning the Topograhia Hibernica, I quickly concluded that the manuscript I had been shown was not one which had been consulted by modern scholars. There was, however, in a 2009 PhD thesis by Sumithra J. David, mention of a ‘missing’ copy of the Topographia. This was a manuscript known to have previously been bound with a copy of the Historia Regnum Britannie by Geoffrey of Monmouth and William of Malmesbury’s Gesta Regum Anglorum. Bound together, perhaps by Matthew Parker (Archbishop of Canturbury 1559 – 1575), and recorded as being in the famous library of Sir Thomas Phillips (as MS 26642, MS 26233 and MS 26641), these three medieval histories were eventually broken up and auctioned. Reasonably enough, Geoffrey of Monmouth ultimately ended up in the National Library of Wales (NLW, 13210). The William of Malmesbury found its way to the National Library of Scotland (9193/13).The Gerald of Wales, however, was bought by the antiquarian bookseller Alan Thomas on 27 November 1969, but was not found in his possession on his death in 1981.

Alerting the Farmleigh librarian to the possible significance of the manscript, we were in fact very quickly able to establish that this was indeed the missing Topographia. Lady Iveagh had an acquisitions record for the library and for November 1969 there is an entry which records that the Topograhia Hyberniae was bought as part of a number of items from Sothebys of London. Fortunately its provenance was made clear: ‘Phillips Middle Hill mark and No. 2778 cancelled and replaced by 26642’.

The match with the Phillips collection mark is conclusive. So how important is this identification? There are some 39 known copies of the Topographia and we are probably in need of a updated edition since the version used in the popular Penguin translation by John O’Meara is based on his 1949 recension (Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy, 52, C4), since when several other manuscripts have been found. It will take proper and in-depth study to see exactly what the Farmleigh manuscript has to offer; how it differs from the other manuscripts and where it fits in to the established schema; but it is earlier than most of the surviving manuscripts and it is therefore understandable that the leading scholar on the works of Gerald of Wales, Professor Robert Bartlett, has described the discovery as ‘very exciting news’.

Meanwhile, I haven't been neglecting my fiction. A copy-edited version of Edda came back to me recently and I've been rewriting the book, taking note of queries and suggestions (many of them very good indeed) from the copy-editor. Next it will go back to the publishers (O'Brien in Ireland, Firebird, an imprint of Viking, in the USA) and be laid out for publication. At the same time an artist - I hope Tony Sahara again - will be working on the cover. All in all, Edda is on schedule for a summer release in 2011 in Ireland and the USA.


Thanks Conor for the letter!

Friday, July 30, 2010

Dublin announced as a UNESCO City of Literature

Dublin has been designated a UNESCO City of Literature, one of only four in the world. Conor Kostick was present at the announcement (above), and was briefly interviewed (see below).

Monday, July 05, 2010

Conor Kostick to be Farmleigh Writer in Residence for Summer 2010

Farmleigh House
Conor Kostick has been awarded the Farmleigh writer's residency for Summer 2010. Farmleigh was formerly a Dublin residence of the Guinness brewing family. Farmleigh is now an official State guest house for visiting heads of State and dignitaries.
Farmleigh Mews
Conor says:

I’m delighted to learn that I shall be taking up the Farmleigh writers residency this summer. It’s a beautiful house set in acres of garden and the atmosphere there is perfect for writing. When I was shown around the building the librarian, Julia Cummins, introduced me to the book collection that Benjamin Guinness (1937-1992) gathered. It is incredible. First editions abound, including Ulysses and collections of poems by Yeats, with annotations in his own hand. But what excited me most of all was a thirteenth century manuscript by Gerald of Wales. By happy co-incidence this is one of the major sources for the impact of the Normans on Ireland, something which is very relevant to my writing plans. As well as working on a series of stories based on a group of hedonistic self-aware avatars in a virtual world, I’m going to write a book for the O’Brien Press on the coming of the Normans. It’s a great story, full of drama, and deserves to be looked at again in the light of modern scholarship.
While at Farmleigh I shall organise a few events related to children’s literature. I’m going to invite a prominent children’s writer to give a public talk. I’m also going to show local schools around the house and give them a reading from my own books. Included in these trips is St Joseph’s School for the Visually Impaired. My baby daughter Maya attends their pre-school and they’ve been brilliant with her, so I’m really pleased to be able to offer them something in return. I’m hoping – though she might not know it yet! – that the new children’s laureate, Siobhán Parkinson will be involved in that event.
In August I will be giving two creative writing workshops for writers of children’s literature. Places will be limited but anyone interested can send 1,000 words of their work in progress to and we’ll get back to them.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Conor Kostick wins Reading Association of Ireland Special Merit Award

Conor Kostick has been awarded the Reading Association of Ireland Special Merit Award in recognition of his latest book, Move, and for his overall body of work and contribution to science-fiction writing for children in Ireland. Below is a picture of the trophy:

There are more photos at the O'Brien blog. Below is the poster for the awards:

Epic is part of a Rice Krispies promotion in Ireland

Kelloggs, in association with Hughes and Hughes is featuring Epic by Conor Kostick on boxes of Rice Krispies cereal in Ireland. Kids are encouraged to collect coupons from the boxes which they can exchange for copies of one of the six featured books taking them to a branch of Hughes and Hughes. The books are:

  • Boo and Bear by Enda Wyley
  • Bertie Rooster by Maddie Stewart
  • Granny’s Teeth by Brianóg Brady Dawson
  • Mad Grandad and the Mutant River by Oisín McGann
  • Hazel Wood Girl by Judy May
  • Epic by Conor Kostick

Here is the front of the box.

Here is the rear of the box. The description of Epic is:

When Erik attempts to break the rules of the fantasy Epic game he is drawn into a web of conspiracy and deadly secrets. Epic is a spectacular and engaging story for readers of 10 and over.

There is a website for the promotion which has some more details about each of the books.

Here is the detail page for Epic

Conor Kostick on Facebook

About this blog

This blog is not written by Conor Kostick. It is owned and operated by Andrew Sherman. Please send comments, questions and suggestions to andrew <dot> sherman <at> gmail <dot> com