The New Book

I began the second Jani novel, Jani and the Great Pursuit, last week, and it’s going well. I’m around thirty thousand words into the story from Jani’s point of view (I’ll write from two other character’s viewpoints later, before returning to Jani for the finale). I hope to get a good second draft in the bag before Christmas. After that, I’ll send the ms to a few good friends for their criticism, rewrite the novel in February, and with luck hit the March the 10th deadline.

Anyway, that’s the reason I haven’t been keeping the website up-to-date with these pieces – I have very little time, between working on the book, walking the hound three times a day, and fetching my daughter from school… quite apart from cooking and cleaning the house. (Which sounds as if my wife does nothing; let me state, before she verbally clobbers me, that she has a full-time job as a university lecturer, and her workload makes mine look miniscule).

Right, Uther the red and white setter is demanding his afternoon constitutional… so I’d better obey.

~

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Upcoming4.me

I’ve written several pieces about my work for Upcoming4.me. Here’s the publisher’s blurb about the third collected volume of these writings by various hands:

Story Behind the Book: Volume 3 collects nearly 40 non-fiction essays from some of the most exciting authors working today. Offering an unique insight into the creative and publishing process, these essays reveal all the beauty, effort and frustration that inevitable comes hand in hand with the urge to write, edit or illustrate.

All proceeds will be donated to Epilepsy Action.

Contents:

Story behind The Demi-Monde by Rod Rees
Story behind Salvage by Eric Brown
Story behind The Beautiful Land by Alan Averill
Story behind The Ballad of Halo Jones by Ian Gibson
Story behind Kill City Blues by Richard Kadrey
Story behind The Shoal Sequence by Gary Gibson
Story behind The Fabulous Beast by Garry Kilworth
Story behind Celestial Inventories by Steve Rasnic Tem
Story behind Shadows of the Apt by Adrian Tchaikovsky
Story behind The Summer Isles by Ian R. MacLeod
Story behind The Bride Price by Cat Sparks
Story behind Falling Over by James Everington
Story behind Age of Godpunk by James Lovegrove
Story behind Forge of Darkness by Steven Erikson
Story behind Plastic by Christopher Fowler
Story behind Chalk by Pat Cadigan
Story behind Kinslayer by Jay Kristoff
Story behind The Mona Lisa Sacrifice by Peter Roman
Story behind Dust by Hugh Howey
Story behind Swallowing a Donkey’s Eye by Paul Tremblay
Story behind Blood Song by Anthony Ryan
Story behind Dragon Queen by Stephen Deas
Story behind Saxon’s Bane by Geoffrey Gudgion
Story behind Ironskin by Tina Connolly
Story behind Dust by Joan Frances Turner
Story behind A Taste of Blood Wine by Freda Warrington
Story behind Allegiance by Beth Bernobich
Story behind Trickster by Jeff Somers
Story behind Seven Forges” by James A. Moore
Story behind Phoenicia’s Worlds by Ben Jeapes
Story behind The Revelations of Zang by John R. Fultz
Story behind Bullettime by Nick Mamatas
Story behind Wounded Prey by Sean Lynch
Story behind Clean Burn by Karen Sandler
Story behind Three Parts Dead by Max Gladstone
Story behind Marrow by Robert Reed
Story behind The Scourge and The Scourge Nostrum by Roberto Calas
Story behind Greenbeard by Richard James Bentley
Story behind The Bird Saviors by William J. Cobb

The cover image is of a fluorescent micrograph of acridine orange and propidium iodide double-stained human non-small cell lung cancer cells (H460).

The links are:

Amazon.com
E-book:

Paperback:

Amazon.co.uk
E-book:

Paperback:

~

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The Frozen Woman

My short story “The Frozen Woman” is now on StarShipSofa as a podcast, along with an interview with me conducted by Tony C. Smith.

The story was first published in Interzone 190 back in 2003. It’s a time travel tale about a journalist, Amy Sullivan, who is summoned to a country house to meet the most famous human being on Earth, Timothy Masters – the Frozen Man. There Masters reveals how he became ‘frozen’, what this entails, and the reason he summoned Amy. It’s a love story as well as a time travel tale – a combination I thinks works well.

I wrote this story back in 2002, though to be honest I have almost no recollection of doing so. All I can recall is that the idea came one day and I wrote it the next – one of those rare, but happy, occurrences for a writer.

“The Frozen Woman” was reprinted in my collection The Angels of Life and Death, Infinity Plus Books, 2012. It also appeared in Greek translation, in the magazine ‘9′ #126.

~

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Glossophobia

10.00 am…

Well, I’m being interviewed by Tony Smith from StarShipSofa – or as my daughter says, Spaceship Settee – later this morning and I’m dreading it. My fear of public speaking extends to phone interviews. So this piece is in two parts. This bit, pre-interview – and a follow up piece post-interview.

I live my life by Laurens Van Der Post’s dictum, “Reality is never as bad as you expect it to be” – which he came up with, amazingly enough, while imprisoned by the Japanese during World War Two.

Or rather I try to live my life by it. By and large I succeed, but public speaking is another matter. No matter what I tell myself: “The only thing I have to fear is fear itself,” and, “It’ll be fine once it’s under way,” I can’t dispel the bowel-quaking nerves that beset me before the event. That’s why I never appear on panels at conventions, and try as best I can to avoid speaking engagements.

I suppose my upbringing is responsible for this. I come from a northern working-class background and I left school at fourteen: two facts that don’t augur well for confidence before an audience. I was brought up in the Yorkshire tradition of ‘shut up until you’re spoken to’, and ‘don’t get above yourself’. The idea of getting up on a podium and pronouncing was anathema. ‘Who the hell does he think he is…” etc.

And leaving school at fourteen has left me with a life-long inferiority complex when it comes to matters of the mind. I know it’s daft, and I know too that it has no bearing on most people’s apprehension of me. But a lack of education can be a debilitating thing. Despite the fact that I’ve written over fifty books, and some of them have been well reviewed, I fear the day when I’ll be ‘found out.’

Non-writers, I think, expect writers to fall into stereotypes – university educated, intellectual… when in fact all we are, at base, is story-tellers. Or at least that’s what I tell myself.

Dammit, that’s the phone. Here goes…
~
11.25 am…

Well, what can I say? Laurens was right. All I had to fear, etcetera…

Tony Smith at StarShipSofa was the perfect host and put me at ease immediately, asking some great questions. At one point, ten minutes into the interview, I found myself actually enjoying the experience. ‘Reality is never as bad as you expect it to be.’

But, come the next interview, or public speaking engagement, will I dispel fear with a nonchalant shrug? Of course not. I’ll be as apprehensive as ever.

Well-meaning friends have suggested I do more public speaking, to get over the fear. And while I agree that experience might ease the apprehension, the fear would still be there. After all, veteran actors still suffer stage-fright before a performance.

A few years ago, against my better judgement, I took part in a few engagements over the course of a month or so. I spoke to the Brum SF group, then gave a talk to students at Keith Brooke’s SF writing course at Essex University, and then – terrifyingly – addressed prisoners at a gaol in Chelmsford – which I wrote about in an earlier piece on this site called Lalophobia. (Which title, I’ve just discovered, is wrong. Lalophobia is the fear of speaking in general. Fear of public speaking is known as glossophobia.)

And, despite the fact that I did these events one after the other, by the time it came to go to gaol, I was still petrified. Life for a few days leading up to the visit was unpleasant.

So, all things being even, and everything considered, I’ll remain averse to climbing on my soapbox.

Anyway, my thanks to Tony Smith for the experience. My story “The Frozen Woman” will be aired on StarShipSofa as a podcast on Wednesday, along with the interview. I’ll write a piece about the story on this site on Wednesday or Thursday.

~

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Invisible Verb

I’ve noticed an odd construction that some writers use – and I’ve even used it myself from time to time, accidentally or when writing a pastiche of Victorian or period prose.

Now, in the normal run of things, the order of a sentence is: Subject, verb, object… etc.

You would write: ‘Jane ran down the hill’, and not: “Ran Jane down the hill’.

However, when it comes to writing dialogue, it’s surprising how often some writers, for whatever reasons, ignore this rule. Open a novel, scan a page of dialogue, and I bet that within a few seconds you’ll come across a line written something like this:

“Get away!” said Jane.

‘Said’ Jane?

I collaborate with various writers from time to time, and one good friend uses this verb-subject construction a lot. (I change it around when he’s not looking…)

As has been noticed by commentators, ‘said’ is an invisible verb – the eye glides over it when reading dialogue, though the brain takes it in, almost subliminally. That’s why we get away with using the inversion, without it seeming an anachronism.

The exception to this is if we use the inversion while writing first person dialogue. It becomes glaring, like this:

“Get away!” said I.

Instantly, this construction is jarring, and brings to mind Victorian construction, when such a line was frequently used.

So, as a rule – unless writing in a period style when I want to draw attention to the inversion – I try not to use the verb-subject construction when writing dialogue. Of course, there are times when I break the rule inadvertently and, much later if rereading my work (which I try not to do) wince when I find an example.

~

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Royalties

It’s that time of year again.

The time of year that the majority of writers anticipate with a mixture of dread tempered by ever-present hope. We should know better, of course, and reconcile ourselves to despair. However, come the close of every September, insane optimism overcomes bitter experience and I expect, and pray for (or would do if I prayed), a larger royalty cheque than I will receive.

The royalty statements from my children’s books have started dribbling in. As they are initially paid to three separate people, I use the word ‘dribble’ advisedly. My first agent handled my first few kid’s books, then I handled the next few when I was without an agent. John Jarrold, my current agent, takes care of the rest.

This year, the statements make salutary reading. My children’s books that are still in print (a handful have been allowed to fall by the wayside), have earned a little less than last time. Most disappointingly, one of the titles, over the course of the six months from January to June, sold just three copies, compared with 81 copies for the previous six month period. So it goes.

On the plus side, my best-selling children’s title, Twocking, sold 438 copies, which was a healthy increase on last time.

All these books came out from the specialist, Edinburgh-based firm of Barrington Stoke, who publish books for reluctant readers. I love doing them, though they haven’t bought anything new from me for a couple of years.

Still, there was a time, over a decade ago, when none of my books had earned out their advances, and every royalty statement exhibited a depressingly high figure in the Remaining Advance column.

Early next year – as Solaris audit their finances to a different time-scale – the royalty statements for my adult SF titles will reach me, and as ever I will be anticipating them with dread and hope.

So it goes.

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Questions…

This short interview was conducted a few years ago, at the time of the publication of Helix.

We’re at the bar at a convention buying you a drink – what’s it to be?

Timothy Taylor’s Landlord bitter every time! And if they don’t have Landlord, then a pint of stout or porter.

Why should we buy your book (Helix) over all the other books out there?

Tell you what – buy my book along with anything by Robert Charles Wilson and Richard Paul Russo. But, specifically why you should by mine… It’s faced paced, very readable, and tells an entertaining story featuring characters I hope you’ll care about.

Which of the characters in Helix do you most like and why?

I like Joe Hendry, his stoicism, his unflappability. He’s gone through a lot, before the book opens, and endures much hardship during it, and he’s strong enough to win though. I also love Sissy for the same reasons. Watcher Pharan is also a cool guy, for a locust Buddhist.

What would you like people to get from your novels?

I hope the get from them as much enjoyment and wonder as I had in writing them. I’d like readers to be swept along in the reading and then, later, perhaps to admire the craft.

Was there a specific message you were trying to convey in Helix?

I wanted to tell a compelling story, first and foremost, but always a message comes through even if I didn’t intend it. I think it’s obvious in Helix – look after planet Earth, because we might not be fortunate enough to find a Helix! Also: beware religion, and any ideology that could turn fundamental.

How did you get your start?

I started selling short stories to Interzone way back on 1997, and I was picked up by an agent, Antony Harwood, and then an editor working for Pan, who did my first few books.

How much preparation goes into each story as far as research?

Absolutely none. As far as I’m concerned, research kills my fiction. When I’ve finished the important work, which is writing about human beings, then I’ll check a few facts.

Do you ever draw inspiration from current events?

Only current events as in the state of my emotions at the time of writing.

Do you have any unusual writing habits?

Not really. When I was in my twenties, I wrote in biro while lying on my bed. Now I use a PC, though my desk is an old 1950s radiogram. I have been known to keep odd writing hours. Shortly after my daughter’s birth, I got up at 5.30 for a month and wrote every day for three hours.

Do you have any writing superstitions?

No. I have rules. Sit down and write, even if I don’t particularly feel like doing so. I’m a great believer in the power of the subconscious. Start writing, and the words will flow eventually.

What or who inspires you to write?

Something inside me won’t allow me not to write. I get irritable if I’m not working on something. Books I love inspire me. Some of Silverberg’s novels, Coney’s, Orwell, Greene, the life of the novelist Rupert Croft-Cooke.

Who would you most aspire to write like and why?

Style-wise, and for depth and economy, Graham Greene, and Orwell the same. In terms of stick-at-itness, Rupert Croft-Cooke, my literary hero, an unsung writer of over a hundred-and-twenty novels, thrillers, non-fiction books, poetry, plays…

What made you choose SF over any other form?

I read Wells and Silverberg at an early age. I was addicted.

Five minutes with an author of your choice – who would it be and what would you ask?

Can I cheat? Can I go back in time to 1935 and ask Rupert Croft-Cooke if he’d like to have a pint with me?

If you weren’t a writer what would you be doing?

Working for the YHA as a duty manager.

When was the last time you didn’t finish a book and why?

Last week, in disgust, because the author who should have known better, and should have cared, instead hacked it out without the slightest integrity, and it showed.

What books have had an effect on you—for better or worse?

The 27 book autobiographical sequence The Sensual World by Croft-Cooke, for showing me that you only succeed at writing if you stick at it.

Do you think there’s anything truly original left to say in the genre?

I think there is – I’m not sure that I’ll say it, but someone will. And there’s always something original to be said about the human condition, as everyone’s viewpoint is valid and original anyway.

What are your most favourite or unusual non-writing jobs you’ve had?

My favourite job was working as a duty manager at the Haworth Youth Hostel. I enjoy cooking, and meeting people, and that job combined both.

What do you do when you’re not working?

Look after my daughter; read – though these days as I review books I consider this work, alas; cook.

What are some of your hobbies?

I collect books, specifically Chesterton and Croft-Cooke. I love cooking curries.

What are some of your favourite song lyrics?

“Fifty million little monkeys can’t be wrong…” from the 1930s song The Peanut Vendor.

What are you listening to now?

A CD by the brilliant New Zealander Bic Runga, and an Al Bowly CD, who was a dance band crooner from the thirties.

Do you have any pets?

A black cat called Pippin and a tabby called Rosie, and a dog, Uther, a red and white setter.

Do you prefer happy or depressing endings, and why?

I’m an upbeat character, so I constitutionally prefer happy endings – but not saccharine, cop-out endings. And downbeat ending are great if they work in the context of the preceding story.

~

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