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Rejection

The following piece appeared in Red Herrings 741, the bulletin of the Crime Writers’ Association, August 2018.

It can be devastating. You’ve worked hard on a short story or novel for days, weeks, or even years; you’ve sweated blood and tears and put into your creation every ounce of what you think goes to make up a great piece of fiction. Then you launch it into the dark abyss of the marketplace and wait, and wait… (And the time you can spend waiting is a travail faced by writers young and old, but that’s another story). Eventually comes the editor’s response – in days of yore the dreaded stamped, addressed envelope, but more likely these days the even more impersonal email: “Thank you for submitting your Great Work to our magazine. Unfortunately, we have decided not to publish it. Either it was not quite right for us or we’ve just taken tales with a similar theme, or any of a half dozen other reasons…”

Rejection is part and parcel of being a writer – but it’s wrong to assume that it’s something that only beginning writers face.

In the course of my thirty year career as an author – initially science fiction, and these days both SF and crime – I’ve weathered hundreds of rejections. In the early days they came with swift and depressing regularity. When I started submitting my work, back in the early eighties, I posted very short crime tales to the now defunct London Mystery Magazine. The editor’s response was fast and definitive: a form rejection: Thank you for submitting your story to the London Mystery Magazine. Unfortunately, etc…

I wrote and submitted over a hundred short stories between 1978 and 1987 – as well as a dozen very bad science fiction novels. (One of these, the proposed first volume of a series, was submitted to a publisher in London and rejected by an editor who, many years later, set up his own literary agency… and now represents me – a salutary lesson to every would-be writer.) Gradually, as little by little my skill increased, the form rejection slips ceased and I received – oh, joy – personalised rejection letters along the lines of, “While we enjoyed certain aspects of your Great Work, we felt that in terms of characterisation…” etc.

Thus encouraged, I battled on.

And then, in 1987, I received from the science fiction magazine Interzone the much-awaited missive ushering me into the hallowed company of Published Writers: “Dear Mr Brown, we have all read and enjoyed your story “Krash-Bangg Joe and the Pineal Zen Equation” and, subject to a cut and a little line by line editing, would like to purchase it for our magazine.

Oh, the ecstasy, the relief! Years of hard graft and hope had finally paid off. I had joined the ranks of my literary heroes, and only success, fame and fortune would automatically ensue. Gone were the days of rejection…

Or so I thought.

I was naive, as I learned over the course of the years that followed.

It’s a sad fact that, unless your a best-seller whose editor dare not reject a word you’ve written, as a jobbing freelance fiction writer you will receive frequent rejections – especially if you persevere in writing short stories, that beleaguered form in these days of dwindling markets and increasingly paltry fees per word.

Since 1987 I have published a hundred and fifty short stories, mainly in the SF market, as well as sixty-odd books – thirty science fiction and crime novels, a dozen novellas, as many collections, and a dozen or so books for children. And I still receive the occasional, and salutary, slap in the face of rejection.

Because I love short stories, I continue to write them. I turn out around eight or nine a year and succeed in selling perhaps six. But it’s a fact that most of my stories are rejected by the first magazine or anthology to which I send them, and sometimes by the second and third. But if I believe in the story (and after six rejections I might take another long, hard look at the piece and decide to retire it from further consideration), I’ll send it out until it meets it fate.

If there’s a moral to the tale, it’s this: whether your a tyro or a jaded pro, you’ll be rejected – it goes with the territory. But, as I never tire of telling beginning writers, the only way you’ll fail is if you let the b******* grind you down, and you stop writing.

~

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Michael G. Coney’s Short Stories 11

Snow Princess” (Galaxy, January, 1971.)

This story continues the adventures of the band of survivors eking out a precarious existence in the bell tower of an old church in England after the fall of the next ice age. They search for food in the streets of a town buried beneath the ice, and eat the meat of the occasional polar bear, called ‘pads’. But Jacko, the leader of the group, has plans to get away from the icy regions on the Snow Princess, a snowboat he’s in the process of building. However, the arrival of two further survivors on the scene, the dim-witted Charles William and the pretty young girl, Mignon, puts a spanner in the works as the boat will not be big enough to hold six people.

Again, the strength of the story lies in Coney’s depiction of the fraught relationship existing with the small group, and his description of the rigours of living in ice age conditions.

Events become even more tense with the attack of ferocious pads, who seem to be working in concert to defeat the humans. Again, as in “Discover a Latent Moses”, salvation arrives from a wholly unexpected source.

Though never less than entertaining, “Snow Princess” is not as successful as the leaner, more economical first tale – indeed it works better as part of the novel Winter’s Children, published three years later in 1974.

Rating: 5/10

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Michael G. Coney’s Short Stories 10

Beneath Still Waters” (World of If, January-February, 1971.)

This story marks the first appearance of Dr Ralph Streng, who will turn up again in Coney’s 1976, BSFA award winning novel Brontomek!. Streng is a self-centred, self-opinionated individualist who doesn’t believe in altruism and thinks that everyone is motivated wholly by self-interest – and admits that he himself is.

The story is centred around Finmouth Race Week, the arrival of an alien from the planet Canaral, and Streng’s relationship with his son Tom, who has Down’s Syndrome.

The first person narrator, Arthur Warren, records a series of events – an accident at a boat race which results in his saving Streng and his son, and their meeting with the alien – culminating in the alien forcing Streng to acknowledge his own humanity.

It’s a strong, but not wholly successful story – the handling of the Down’s Syndrome aspect (Tom is referred to as a ‘mongolian’ throughout) is a little off by modern standards – which redeems itself with a moving dénouement.

It’s notable for being the first of Coney’s stories to feature pleasure-craft and competitive racing – which will crop up again and again in future works – and for being the debut of Ralph Streng, a character you’ll love to hate.

Rating: 6/10

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Parasites

Parasites, the second volume of the Kon-Tiki Quartet, written with Keith Brooke, is out now from PS Publishing.

Humankind  has at last sent a ship to the stars, leaving an Earth ravaged by environmental disaster and torn apart by competing sectarian interests.

Kat Manning is one of eighteen specialists aboard the starship Kon-Tiki, clones whose various areas of expertise will be crucial in the months and years ahead as they forge a new life on a strange alien world.

But what Kat finds on Newhaven is nothing she could have planned for, and every bit as surprising and challenging as the issues she left behind on Earth: mysterious aliens, political in-fighting, and someone willing to go to any lengths to keep a deadly secret.

In Parasites, the second volume of the Kon-Tiki Quartet, Brown and Brooke tell the story of humankind’s taming of an alien world – and of confrontation with the demons that lurk within the very psyche of humanity itself.

~

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Murder Served Cold

Murder Served Cold, the sixth Langham and Dupré novel, will be published at the end of December this year.

November, 1956. Lord Elsmere, an old friend of Donald Langham’s literary agent, Charles Elder, is in a pickle – his favourite painting, a Gainsborough, has been stolen from under his nose. What’s more, there’s no evidence of a break-in. The family heirloom was recently re-insured for a hefty price, and Elsmere is struggling financially. Could he have staged the theft, or was it taken by one of the guests?

Old Major Rutherford, evasive beauty Rebecca Miles, Dutch war hero Patrick Verlinden, Elsmere’s son Dudley Mariner and his statuesque sculptress fiancée, Esmeralda Bellamy, are all guests at the manor. But who would steal the painting, and why?

Private investigators Langham and Ralph Ryland take on the case and uncover seething animosities, jealousy, secrets and deception, before events take a shocking turn . . .

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Buying Time

My latest novel, Buying Time, is out now from Solaris.

No man in rich enough to buy back his past’ – Oscar Wilde.

In January 2017, something very strange happens to screen-writer Ed Richie. He wakes up one morning to find that he has been shunted back in time nine months and is now inhabiting the body of his younger self… Worse is to come: the following day he time-jumps three years, to 2013, with all his memories of the intervening years in tact. What is happening to him? Is he going mad? And where will his involuntary time-travel end?

Meanwhile, in 2030, journalist Ella Croft is investigating the life of screen-writer and celebrated novelist Ed Richie, who mysteriously vanished in 2025. She interviews friends, acquaintances, and old lovers – and what she discovers will change not only Ed Richie’s life, but her own…

Buying Time is a time-travel novel like no other. No man is rich enough to buy back his past – unless that man is Ed Richie.

~

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Dislocations

Dislocations is out now from PS Publishing.

Project Kon-tiki, the world’s first extra-solar colony expedition, is just weeks away from departure, and tension is mounting at Lakenheath Base. Psychologist Kat Manning is one of the eighteen specialist whose clone will be sent to the stars, and her job is to work with the original specialists, the ‘left behind’, to monitor and support them through their dislocation… But when Kat is kidnapped by the Allianz, a faction opposed to the colonisation program, more than just her safety is at stake. The entire mission is in jeopardy.

In Dislocations, the first volume of the Kon-tiki Quartet, Brown and Brooke tell the story of humankind’s last-gasp efforts to reach the stars, set against the backdrop of an Earth torn apart by looming environmental disaster.

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Ebooks

I was taking a look at my website the other day, and I happened to notice how many of my titles have been put out by Infinity Plus ebooks – most of my back-list, in fact. In days of yore, before ebooks, these books – collections, novels, and novellas – would have rapidly fallen out of print and been unavailable. Happily we live in an age where that need never happen. What is particularly gratifying about having my backlist so readily to hand is that many of the titles are ones which are close to my heart; the collections The Time-Lapsed Man, and Blue Shifting, and The Fall of Tartarus, contain some of my best shorter work, and my finest novella, A Writer’s Life, is also available, as well as my first novel, Meridian Days, and the title which is a steady seller as an ebook, Penumbra.

If you’re a fan of ebooks, you could do worse than check out a few of the following titles – all at incredibly competitive prices.

A Writer’s Life –  Amazon US – Amazon UK

The Fall of Tartarus –  Amazon US – Amazon UK

The Spacetime Pit Plus Two (with Stephen Baxter) Amazon US – Amazon UK

The Time-Lapsed Man and other stories –  Amazon US – Amazon UK

Meridian Days – Amazon US – Amazon UK

Penumbra –  Amazon US – Amazon UK

The Angels of Life and Death – Amazon US – Amazon UK

Approaching Omega – Amazon US – Amazon UK

Blue Shifting – Amazon US – Amazon UK

GhostwritingAmazon US – Amazon UK

Rites of Passage –  Amazon US – Amazon UK

Salvage –  Amazon US – Amazon UK

Parallax View –  Amazon US – Amazon UK

Deep Future – Amazon US – Amazon UK

Microcosms Amazon US – Amazon UK

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Murder Takes a Turn

Out now from Severn House, the latest Langham and Dupré mystery, Murder Takes a Turn. It’s my favourite of the five I’ve written so far, featuring a fascinating cast, an ingenious murder method, and some fine detection from Donald Langham.

“It’s time to let bygones be bygones. Water under the bridge, right? What happened… happened a long time ago.”

When Donald Langham’s literary agent receives a cryptic letter inviting him to spend the weekend at the grand Cornish home of successful novelist Denbigh Connaught, Charles Elder seems reluctant to attend. What really happened between Elder and Connaught during the summer of 1917, nearly forty years before – and why has it had such a devastating effect on Charles?

Accompanying his agent to Connaught House, Langham and his wife Maria discover that Charles is not the only one to have received a letter. But why has Denbigh Connaught gathered together a group of people who each bear him a grudge?

When a body is discovered in Connaught’s study, the ensuing investigation uncovers dark secrets that haunt the past of each and every guest – including Charles Elder himself.

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Langham and Dupré Omnibus

Severn House are bringing out an omnibus eBook of books one and two of the Langham & Dupré series. Out on the 12th March, at £4.99/$6.99 until 10th June. Then the price increases to £8.99/$10.99.

Murder by the Book

London, 1955. When crime writer Donald Langham’s literary agent asks for his help in sorting out ‘a delicate matter’, little does Langham realize what he’s getting himself into. For a nasty case of blackmail leads inexorably to murder as London’s literary establishment is rocked by a series of increasingly bizarre deaths. With three members of the London Crime Club coming to sudden and violent ends, what at first appeared to be a series of suicides looks suspiciously like murder – and there seems to be something horribly familiar about the various methods of dispatch.

With the help of his literary agent’s assistant, the delectable Maria Dupré, Langham finds himself drawing on the skills of his fictional detective hero as he hunts a ruthless and fiendishly clever killer – a killer with old scores to settle.

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Murder at the Chase

Crime writer Donald Langham has interrupted his romantic break in rural Suffolk with Maria Dupré to assist a fellow author. Alasdair Endicott has requested Langham’s help in discovering what’s happened to his father, Edward, who has disappeared without trace from inside his locked study.

Before he vanished, the elder Endicott had been researching a book on the notorious Satanist Vivian Stafford. Could the proposed biography have something to do with his disappearance? Does local resident Stafford truly possess supernatural powers, as some believe?

As Langham and Dupré question those around them, it becomes clear that there have been strange goings-on in the sleepy village of Humble Barton. But is the village really haunted – or does someone merely want it to look that way? And with a further shocking discovery, the case takes a disturbing new twist.

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