Welcome to the final day of our 12 Days of Christmas, and let this post start with a Merry Christmas from everyone at Angry Robot HQ to you all.

We hope you’ve enjoyed our festive promotion, and picked up some bargains. If you missed any of the posts, click here for links to all the ebooks you can still get at only £1 – or your currency equivalent – until 2 January, 2015. For our final day, we bring you two fantastic titles, Kameron Hurley‘s epic fantasy The Mirror Empire and Rod Duncan‘s steampunk fantasy The Bullet-Catcher’s Daughter.

Here’s how to take advantage of our £1 seasonal special offer:

1. Visit the Robot Trading Company at www.robottradingcompany.com
2. Add the book(s) you’d like to buy to your shopping basket
3. Add the magic word ‘mincepie’ to the ‘coupon/voucher’ box
4. Click the ‘update basket’ button and the discount will be applied

For today’s festive bonus, here’s a special memory from Rod:

The Gift of Strangeness


December 25th 1991

The tea house was perched on top of a cliff. Sipping oolong from a cup little bigger than a thimble, I looked down to where a river licked the rocks far below. I could just make out turtles swimming in the green water. After two and a half years living in Taiwan, the scene had come to feel ordinary to me.

I can’t say that this was the precise moment when I started to write stories. It was certainly within a week or two either way. As with most turning points, it seemed inconsequential at the time. Not something worth noting in a diary, even if I’d kept one. But years of not writing were about to end. As a dyslexic, I’d done my best to avoid pens and paper. You’d have been more likely to find my efforts in FORTRAN than English prose.

Not that I had anything against stories. There were plenty of them chasing their tails in my head. Some I made up. Others I read in books – chiefly science fiction and fantasy, one of my favourite authors being Mervyn Peake.

Peake was born in Jiangxi province, China, a few hundred miles from Taiwan. That was in 1911, less than a year before the fall of the Qing Dynasty. I’d always assumed that his experience growing up in an exotic and intensely stratified society had given him the inspiration to write his masterpiece, the Gormenghast trilogy. The books describe a society bound within crumbling walls and a labyrinthine code of laws. The Forbidden City in Beijing is an easy comparison.

In a much smaller way, perhaps living on Taiwan and being immersed in an exotic culture had given me the push to start writing. Whatever the reason – I began tapping away on my computer, creating an eco-thriller based on the island, a landscape of vertiginous mountains dripping with tropical forest and gorges carved into white marble.

It was bad writing. With the benefit of 20 years hindsight, I can assure you it was terrible. Thankfully (and unsurprisingly) it didn’t get published. However, I had caught the writing bug. I was still at it when I returned to the UK.

Taiwan might have become normal to me. But I was surprised to discover that the UK, my old home, had become strange. Ordinary things had become extraordinary – the way people walked down the street, the assumptions they made about each other from dress and speech, the thousand inconsequential habits and gestures of everyday life.

It was then I started to think that perhaps Gormenghast owed as much to 20th century England as it did to Qing Dynasty China. How strange London must have seemed to him when he arrived in 1922. Its people bound in a rigid class structure and mysterious codes of social etiquette.

It doesn’t take long before the feeling of comfortable normality returns. But somehow, years after moving to England, Mervyn Peake was able to recreate that sense of strangeness. He lends us his eyes so that we can experience the same sense of bewildered awe as we gaze on Gormenghast.

This ability, I am convinced, is one of the keys to great writing. It is the facility to be able to look at something we have seen a thousand times and see it as if for the first time. In all the writing I’ve done since, up to and including my most recent novel The Bullet Catcher’s Daughter, that is what I have been trying to capture – the gift of strangeness.

Leave a Comment