Conor Kostick on Ready Player One, Epic and LitRPG

Conor Kostick, author of the brilliant sci-fi series The Avatar Chronicles, chats about imagination, online gaming and the growing popularity of LitRPG.

In 2003, I had an idea for a novel, which was inspired by a newspaper article claiming that the value of trades of virtual goods was sufficiently large (several billion dollars) that if it were a country it would rank greater than Bulgaria. What, I wondered, if this trend were to grow until your activity in virtual environments really mattered? What if the celebrities of the world were not sports stars and music stars, but gamers…?

I wrote Epic extremely quickly. In all the years and books since, I’ve never experienced anything like the same immersion in the world of my imagination. It was the summer between finishing my degree and starting a PhD and I knew this free time was precious. So every evening I would write until the early hours of the morning and during the day I would edit. So intense was my involvement with the book that my dreams were filled with it and I learned the value of keeping a notebook and pen beside me.

I’d wake up with an insight, jot it down, and fall back to sleep. Continue reading “Conor Kostick on Ready Player One, Epic and LitRPG”

Our visitors from the East!

Russian visitors
Our visitors from Khabarovsk with author Nicola Pierce (centre) and Peter Heaney (second from left)

On Monday we had a truly original set of visitors to the office: a school group from the Russian city of Khabarovsk. These students, growing up a stone’s throw from China and about as far east as you can go before hitting the Pacific Ocean, have struck up a remarkable interest in Ireland and all things Irish. One of them is even learning Irish dancing. So how did this happen?

Peter Heaney, a wonderful (former) teacher and great friend to The O’Brien Press, has been working on clever multinational education projects for years: he also set up a collaboration between schools in the Republic of Ireland, Northern Ireland and South Africa to explore Aubrey Flegg‘s book The Cinnamon Tree. This work has all been supported by The Pushkin Trust, which has been promoting all-Ireland collaboration through the arts for children for twenty-five years. The Russian connection was a remote one until the growth of the internet: there are now nine schools from Northern Ireland, eight from Russia and two from the Republic of Ireland involved in regular online collaboration. Modern technology can facilitate so much that would have been a dream previously!

Peter has been working with the Polytechnical Lyceum Khabarovsk for three years now, from his home in Derry. A year ago he called me and told me that the class were particularly interested in Nicola Pierce‘s remarkable novel Spirit of the Titanic – they had even translated chapters into Russian and entered these translations into Russian national competitions! Of course, at that point Peter did not know that our next book with Nicola, City of Fate, was set during the Battle of Stalingrad in World War II (or The Great Patriotic War, as it is known in Russia). The coincidence of their favourite author writing a novel that was set in their own country was simply too much; they had to visit!

CityofFateAnd so today a tour of the office, interspersed with many questions, was followed by a presentation by Nicola about City of Fate; she undertook a huge amount of research when writing the book and now spends a lot of time in schools and libraries showing children the world of Stalingrad that inspired it. We also showed our visitors the wide range of our books that have been translated into other languages. They were impressed, but much more interested in reading books in the original English, a result of their inspirational teacher Olga’s belief that no translation (and particularly not dumbed-down educational adaptations) can capture the spirit of a real book!

Clearly all book lovers to their fingertips, these remarkable young people are an example of how children’s books truly can unite people across the world.

Thanks to Peter Heaney, author Nicola Pierce, teacher Olga Ilina and all the students for an amazing day!

We’ve gone all electronic!

It’s been an interesting journey: after months of discussion, development and testing, we have released our first ever electronic product: iPaddy: Irish Slang Guide. When iPhone apps became the big buzz last autumn, it became clear that finally there was a new way that people were willing to pay for content in real numbers: the Information Wants To Be Free movement is all very well, but it doesn’t pay the bills! O’Brien Press decided to jump in and test the water.

We selected our first product by matching the content we have with the market as we saw it: we wanted something entertaining, international and visual and it was not long before we realised that we had the perfect material in The Feckin’ book of Irish slang that’s great craic for cute hoors and bowsies. It is in bite-sized chunks, and the cartoons were just perfect for the small screen on an iPhone. Most importantly, it is genuinely funny.

Normally a publisher would have pretty much total control of a product, apart from physically printing it, so engaging a developer (we went for Plazro Games) to build the application was a new experience. Thankfully, they were great to work with, understood exactly what we were aiming for and had all the skills (3D graphics, 2D graphics, database, coding, marketing) that were required.

The next step was getting voice talent: it was clear that this would only work with great actors to take the humour from the page and make it work on the screen. Morgan Jones and Norma Sheehan are among the best in the game: the recording session was a blast, and they did a great job. Finally, the publication process is very different to anything we had dealt with before: an application is submitted to Apple for their approval before it can be sold: if there are no problems, one day you get a mail to say “ready for sale”, and there you go! No stock to print, hold and distribute either, which is nice.

There’s a microsite at and a promotional video on YouTube.

Of course, the next thing is obsessively tracking the chart position of the app on your iPhone and telling all your friends about it. In the book world the charts come out once a week – the app store seems to update them every couple of mintes. At the last count iPaddy has sold copies in about 20 countries — conquering the world, one iPhone at a time, and just in time for St Patrick’s Day!


Skype Hype

Author Conor Kostick, he of the critically-acclaimed Epic and Saga, recently gave a talk to a group of students, which he does regularly. The difference being that this time Conor was in Ireland, and the school was in New Hampshire in the US. Conor’s books are hugely popular throughout the US, and with the aid of Skype, he’s able to connect with his fans overseas and take part in events. Teachers and students at the New Hampshire school reported that their event with Conor was a great success and that it was a thrill for them to be able to talk to one of their favourite authors.

Conor is also the author of The Book of Curses for younger readers, and Move, for older readers. He is the recent recipient of the Reading Association of Ireland Special Merit Award 2009, not only for Move, but also for his overall body of work and his contribution to science-fiction writing for children. He looks forward to taking part in lots more transatlantic events in the future!

It’s digital week!

A bit like the number 17 bus, you wait all year for a digital seminar, and then three come at once (Well there was one last month, but stick with me here)!

Tomorrow there’s a digital seminar organised by Publishing Ireland about online marketing (with Ireland’s leading online marketing evangelist Damian Mulley: is Twitter the answer to all our needs? How much content should we give away free? Lots of potential for fun there …), bibliographical information (with Tim from Anko: dull-sounding but really important stuff about how the world learns about books) and digital rights (from Samantha Holman, ICLA).

No sooner is that over than it’s off to London for the Independent Publishers Guild Digital Quarterly Meeting: this is a great idea whereby four times each year the independents throw ideas around, share success (and failure!) stories from the e-universe and help each other compete against the conglomerates.

And as if that was not enough, on Saturday, I’ll be on the panel at the Children’s Books Ireland Digital Developments Seminar, organised by Eoin Purcell.

There’s no question that all publishers need to get on the electronic road sooner rather than later, while some have jumped headlong into the choppy waters. Instant access to worldwide markets, the potential for direct selling, the threat to bookshops (who are our main customers, after all), and the huge pressure on pricing brought about by the amount of free stuff out there are all becoming more important issues now that the format wars appear to be dying down a bit. Interesting times.


Alice and Megan have their own website!

Things are happening thick and fast — it must be mid-September!

We are delighted to announce the launch of a new website for Alice and Megan, Ireland’s favourite best friends: Judi Curtin’s bestselling series has now reached seven books with the release of Alice to the Rescue.

Featuring chapters from all the books, a castlist from the books, information about the author and illustrator and much more, it’s our first heavily-featured, added-value microsite, and was developed almost exclusively in-house. In addition, we are going to publish the whole of Alice Next Door, the first book in the series, on a rolling basis on the site, to encourage fans to visit and revisit the site which we plan to continue developing over time.


It’s MicroSiteTastic!

MoorehawkeTrilogy.comWe are thrilled to launch our updated microsite! The Crowded Shadows is hitting the shelves in a bookshop near you (in Ireland: those of you abroad are going to have to wait for your local publishers to release their editions — sorry!) so check out the microsite, read an extract and get hooked on Celine’s writing all over again.

We hope you love the new covers as much as we do, and the early reviews have been really positive: so check it out!

Google Schmoogle

I was on the panel at a very interesting event last night, organised by Irish PEN, where I shared the stage with Fintan O’Toole (The Irish Times), Clodagh Feehan (Mercier Press) and Samantha Holman (ICLA). PEN is an author body and whole bunch of authors joined us to discuss the Google Book Settlement. This private settlement, agreed behind closed doors between Google and the AAP (Association of American Publishers) is amazingly far-reaching. Details of the settlement only became available in early January this year, and the last chance to opt-out is in three week’s time! I’ve been reading all the material on it that I could find and was still clear as mud about large portions of it — thanks largely to Samantha, I now (finally!) have a reasonable understanding of the settlement. Continue reading “Google Schmoogle”

The Vagaries of Databases

It’s great to have a bestseller, and when we produced our special World Book Day book this year (a flipper book combining Daifní Dineasár [another WBD first — an Irish language book] and Alfie Green and the Monkey Puzzler), we were confident that this would be one: every year, the kid’s charts are dominated for a couple of weeks by these books which, with a cover price of €1.50, are mainly bought with the vouchers given to all school children.

Of course, just about nobody publishes the children’s bestseller lists these days, so our moment of glory is often missed by the general public. A little database error, however, meant that is was categorized as general non-fiction instead of a children’s books — which has had it at the top of the bestsellers under General Fiction for two weeks now!

Maybe we should be a little less careful about our data in future …


So what was the Blogs And Books event like?

A very interesting event. Quite a decent audience for a gig of that type. In truth, the subject was so wide that there were no blinding insights or specific messages to be drawn from it, but a few things struck me. While Blogging is a young person’s game, the audience was older than I was expecting: when I asked how many there were under 25, about 5 hands went up.

Also, while the people in the room were all at the leading or bleeding edge of technology, there was a huge affection for books, from a number of perspectives:

  • They pretty much all wanted to get published in books form, even though they were publishing on the web at will
  • Quite a lot of them already were being published (which may account for the age profile — the people who are still learning how to write simply were not there)
  • The all loved reading in book form: the whole paper-and-ink experience that us conventional publishers hope that people retain a deep affection for, for as long as possible
  • They didn’t seem too put out at the process of producing a book: the editing, compromising and struggles involved

The blogging form is still young, but seems to be gaining a large degree of maturity, and it is inevitable that lots of great writers will cut their teeth on blogs, as well as continuing to use is as a means of self-expression along with whatever other writing they may do. Thanks to the organisers, and best of luck to them all at the blog awards on Saturday!