Monday, 29 December 2008

Skipping Stones revisited

Oh, and in case I'm not online before, my new novelette, Skipping Stones, co-written with Kathy Sedia, will finally see publication after it's third (fourth?) acceptance. It'll be here, come New Year.

Bargain Booze (plus)

My adopted town has a few things going for it. All life can be found there. It's halfway between London and Brighton, yet overall is a stalwart supporter of the Conservatives. It has both a LIDL and a Waitrose, along with an old fashioned independent department store. There are lots of closed down shops. It used to have a nice bookshop, but that's been converted recently: half into a charity shop (probably around the twenty seventh in the town--until recently charity shops played second-fiddle to the Estate Agents, but that's no longer the case for obvious reasons).

And I live on the edge of town, in a fairly middle-income/affluent housing development. At the junction between town and suburb, between Surrey and Sussex in fact, there used to be an off-licence opposite a newsagents/post-office. The off-licence closed down to make way for a breakfast bar that looks far too namby-pamby for the local builders, drivers and bin-men that frequent the towns other cafes. Opposite this, now sits, where once sat proudly the mini-post office-cum-newsagency, is a new shop. And the name of this shop, I kid you not, is Bargain Booze plus. (I have worked out from the bright posters smothering the front of the store to bar daylight that the plus represents items such as pints of milk, red-top newspapers and fizzy drinks).

My town has slipped down in my estimation, but you've got to admire the marketing nous of the owners.

Happy bit between days of celebration.

Saturday, 20 December 2008

Sexy free Christmas treat

As it's the season, we're giving stuff away free. Well, just the one bit of stuff. A shiny copy of Subtle Edens, featuring the story Overturned, by one Neil Ayres and Aliya Whiteley, to the person that leaves the best festive-related joke in the comments trail.

Oh, and the Tate Modern have an SF competition running. Here it is. Thanks to Jenni for the heads-up.

And the title of this post? I wondered if it's bring in a batch of new traffic.

Wednesday, 17 December 2008

On the shoulders of, er, just the one giant

Demographic representations of the world. There's one map that shows regions proportionately by how many books they publish.

And talking of Atlas, you can see him in the night sky over the UK at the moment, along with his daughters the Pleiads and his missus Pleione.

Tuesday, 16 December 2008

Holt, who goes there?

Ooh, look, shiny book site:

Saturday, 13 December 2008

Is it me, or is it a bit drafty in here

After five long, word-filled years, it looks like I've actually finished the first draft of the novel that has been hounding my waking and sleeping hours. And more than that, it actually seems to hold together quite nicely, and is a book I'd quite like to read myself, had I not written. So all in all, I'm in the five or ten days long special place where it actually feels like I've achieved something, and I'm not full of self-doubt and anxiety over my work. Here's hoping the feeling can last until after Christmas. Now the next mountain to climb: typing the un-typed half up. Of course if anyone out there loves typing and is at a loose end...

Tuesday, 9 December 2008

Super Mario and Juliet

Yes, that's right, one hundred classics are being released on Nitendo's DS

(I'm sure it's only a matter of time for the Wii, Ms Whiteley.)

Friday, 5 December 2008

Just when you thought this blog had enough penguins

S'true. I went to Verona. As a result, I'm getting one of these. In fact, it's already at my office waiting for me. It must be Christmas.

And by Verona, I mean an industrial estate outside the town. I did get to see a wetter than usual Venice from the sky though.

Friday, 28 November 2008

Voicing concern

I read an article a few months back about the potential disappointment inherent in going to see a favourite author read from his or her own work.

This really depends on the author. As any regular reader of this blog will know, Aliya is splurging forth podcasts like there's no tomorrow. And a good thing too. When I first heard her read, her tone matches that of her work, so everyone's a winner.

Historical novelist Gregory Norminton is by happy coincidence a trained actor. A few years back at the launch of Book of Voices we had three authors doing a reading in the middle of a RFH exhibition (with visitors unrelated to the launch milling about and making noise), but the promised microphones didn't materialise. The two authors up after Mr Norminton visibly struggled with the reading, but Gregory, who was up first, waltzed it. And of course his booming Shakespearean delivery perfectly matched his Elizabethan-set story. It was a lot for the other two to live up to in all honesty.

My own voice doesn't quite match up to the inner monologue of my 'reading voice' for my own work, although I'm happy to read aloud work by other people. I suppose I'm not so bothered about wrecking their work with my sound, as listeners will know it's not the sound of the author. Story-telling, rather than story-reading, is easier said than done with some types of fiction, and I guess that's part of it.

I guess a similar point can be made about author photos, which other than a marketing tool, serve little purpose--like the voice--but to have a reader pre-judge the work.

Thursday, 27 November 2008

Veggie Books: The House at Midnight

Lucie Whitehouse's The House at Midnight is an atmospheric read, but it does come with a few problems. However, it does have vegetables in it.

There was asparagus soup to start, then a huge joint of glistening beef that Lucas carved into slices so fine they were almost translucent. There were bowls full of roast potatoes, green beans, calabrese, parsnips, carrots. Horseradish circulated in a tiny silver cauldron with a blue-glass inside.

Yummy, huh?

It's pretty atmospheric stuff (old university friends, one inherits a house, mystery behind the house, relationships go pete tong, all gets a bit shotguntastic by the end) but I didn't take to it. I think the problem is the narrator. She's really unsympathetic to my mind, because she's so passive. She falls into a relationship because the bloke makes a move. Then another bloke makes a move and she snogs him. First bloke dumps her because he finds out, and then she waits for second bloke to contact her in order to start a relationship with him. First bloke takes pills so she starts hanging out with him again, even though that loses her a job she's meant to love. Where's the chutzpah? Where's the chasing after what you want? I wanted to kick her arse until she got up off the sofa and made some decisions for herself.

But this is my problem. I have a different definition of sympathetic. I find characters sympathetic when they move, and act, and have personality. That doesn't always have to be a nice personality.

I realise I'm alone in this.

What, to your mind, makes a character sympathetic? It can't just be moral goodness, can it? How boring.

Wednesday, 26 November 2008

What's not to like?

Alis and David have both written recently about the things they find most difficult about writing. I am completely flabbergasted by Alis' issue with openings, and side with David slightly on the middles, but my biggest hurdle is most definitely research. If it was just one particular bit of information, then that's not a problem, but on the latest book I'm writing I need to know the ins and outs of Mexican gangs and drug trafficking (have a bit of knowledge on that already), European arms dealing circa 1999, the ins and outs of British local council operations and UK and international property law, healing time for a severed tongue wound, as well as the history of Sierra Leone, Liberia and Serbia during the Second World War. Oh and all about horses. Write what you know. Good advice. (To be fair, I know a little about most of these topics, but the local council politics is the thing I'm finding most daunting.)

So why not stick to SF, you cry? There's a whole other can of worms: heat- and solar-activated computers, artificial intelligence, nuns, cyber-gypsies and steampunks... It's the same problem wherever my pen takes me.

Monday, 24 November 2008

O Christmas tree, o Christmas tree

How lovely is the sponsorship of all your protective barriers by Ebay in mainline train stations around London.

Thursday, 20 November 2008

Not gone, but forgotten

Things must be bad when I'm comparing myself to George W, huh? So why am I here?

Well it looks like Aliya has tempted me back by posting about reality tv shows. I can't leave a post about them sitting at the top of this blog.

So why the protracted absense? They seem to happen a lot with me, don't they.

The reasons are manifold, but include two main points:

1. Since having bubba, I changed my hours. My rather long commute into London now involves me not being able to sit down, which is the time I used to reserve for writing the odd blog post, amongst many other things.
2. Work. I've been working on a bit annual project that recently finished, in addition to which there's been an awful lot of normal work on.

I promise to make more effort in future. Sorry.

Friday, 14 November 2008

Veggie Books: Death of a Murderer

I've said this before, but Rupert Thomson is the writer I want to be. He tackles all the themes that I'm preoccupied with, and does it better. How annoying that he's out there, existing, scribbling away, making me obsolete. Still, I can't begrudge the man his novels. They are incredible.

Death of a Murderer is about the policemen who guards the body of Myra Hindley in the mortuary on the night before her burial.

Billy Tyler is not given to introspection, but that long dark night takes his mind in strange directions. At one point he remembers a trip to France with a friend who has all the money and some strange philosophical beliefs.

'What are we going to eat tonight?'

'I bought a couple of tomatoes,' said Raymond, 'and there's half a baguette left over from yesterday. That should do us.'

So that was supper.

Afterwards, Raymond declared himself quite full - 'replete' was the word he used - and Billy couldn't bring himself to disagree.

Over the next few days, as they journeyed south, Raymond subjected Billy to a series of lectures on food. It was his belief that food both dulled perception and extinguished desire.

How far can a person be influenced by another's beliefs? Will they willingly starve? Die, or kill?

Just think how good this book must be. I raved about it and it contains not one, but two, tomatoes.

Wednesday, 5 November 2008

Book cover designs for the modern era

Here are some contemporary book cover designs here. Fortunately they're not real. Unfortunately, they very well could be. I particularly like the Dostoevsky one.

"...not editing your work is akin to buying a new gown and turning up at the ball without make-up or brushing your hair." This quote is from Sam's latest A-z post. She's on E, on editing.

Not to go on about it too much, but this is such a good series of posts, and this is the best yet. Every writer, would-be writer and would-be book editor should read it.

Saturday, 1 November 2008

Recommendation nation

Stuff you wouldn't ordinarily come across recommendation thing:

A day late, but better tardy than never: A Halloween Story, by Interzone bod Peter Tennant. It's an amusing A Christmas Carol pastiche with lots of in-jokes for horror fans.

Requiem for the East, by Siberian author Andrei Makine. Makine pretended to be the translator rather than the author to sell his first novel in French. (He does the Nabokov/Beckett trick of writing in a language other than his mother tongue). Poetic and kinda heart-breaking. This book is the only one to have made me cry in public. I was on a train heading to work.

Fisher of Devils, by that rogue Steve Redwood. A perfect comic fantasy for those not of a Christian-fundamentalist mindset.

How about some music. Camden's Beatmolls were doing the Scissor Sisters thing with more verve, sparkle and dreaded hair long before the New Yorkers put the Bee Gees through the blender.

Can never recommend Monkey Boy enough, but only if you're of the garage rock persuasion.

And if your thing's more science-fiction new-wave surf punk, that can mean only one thing. It's time for the sadly disbanded Man or Astroman.

Thursday, 23 October 2008

Inconvenience store

Waitrose. Website. Is. Rubbish.

I work pretty much half of my living online. Yet I can't even work out how to register on the site. Surely Ocado could have given the old grey-hairs at Waitrose just a smidgen of guidance on designing a decent ecommerce website. Idiots. I'm tempted to look at the LIDL site and compare the experience! Gah and indeed Fah!

We don't all have veggieboxes delivered direct to our door see, even if we try very hard to get them! How many exclamation marks? Aliya will be so proud.

Wednesday, 22 October 2008

Ooh, look, I made a meme. It's called 'Secret Vice'

Not as exciting as it sounds. Mine's Holby City.

I have respect for soap writers. They are much maligned, like soap actors in fact. Sure there are rubbish ones (yes, I'm so looking at you Hollyoaks). But for the main part they do a hard and dirty job.

But Holby City, oh, a diamond in the rough. Sure some situations are so absurdly contrived, but kind of brilliantly.

So, what's your secret vice? Erm, oh yeah, who to tag? Let's go with Ian, Nik, Alis, David and Fiona.

Thursday, 16 October 2008

Veggie Books: Fat

I'm talking a Raymond Carver short story, and a baked potato with sour cream.

Fat summons up the gradual passing of time, and the subtle changes that happen within us, within around 1,000 words. Most 100,000 word epics struggle with that.

The narrator tells a friend about her day at work last Wednesday. She's a waitress, and on the day in question the most obese man she has ever seen enters her cafe. He starts off ordering the soup, the salad, extra bread, pork chops, and the aforementioned baked potato. He is embarrassed about the amount he eats, but the waitress is friendly to him and he relaxes. The kitchen staff are rude about him, and also her other half who is the chef, and she defends him.

It's not as if a lot happens:nothing that can really be described as a plot, anyway. But it's mesmerising. Here's the final paragraphs:

It is August.

My life is going to change. I feel it.

Wednesday, 15 October 2008

Sesame Street was brought to you...

In case you hadn't noticed, Sam Hayes is doing wonderful things with the alphabet and the writers' life over on her blog.

Saturday, 11 October 2008

Good day at the office, dear?

Admittedly, been a bit busy at work lately, but things haven't got quite this bad yet.

Friday, 10 October 2008

Get outta town, buddy

I'm AWOL for two weeks and get replaced by a cheap computer. Charming.

Tis true, I have been reading Ian's novel, but the reason for my absence has been much more prosaic. Work. Lots of it. Big dents made. Chin up. Top lip stiff, what. Normal service resuming...

Talking of Ian's book--which he terms a 'technothriller'--it's interesting how many parallels can be drawn between it and ours. Both are set in modern day. (Well, his is in 2003, but you know what I mean), and both have something sciency and untoward going on. Though his science is probably a tad stronger than ours. And both have one naive young woman for a protagonist who has a complicated connection to a much haughtier and ostensibly more clued-up partner. And there are superhuman killings a-plenty. And both books dash about the globe as if it's much smaller than it is. All we need is a manifesto and by jove we have a movement, albeit an unpublished one.
No penguins in Ian's book though. Sorry, Tim.

Monday, 29 September 2008

Veggie Books: The Weeping Women Hotel

I've always been the kind of person who abides by rules.

I get the shivers when I think I might be trespassing. On a trip to Salzburg, Hubby took a wrong turn and we ended up driving along the riverbank, much to the disgust of the locals, who gesticulated at us a lot until we had reversed very slowly back on to the main road. I crouched behind the dashboard and cried.

So I feel liberated by proxy when somebody breaks rules. I always cheer for the one who sticks two fingers up at authority, and I really enjoy the rare moment when they don't get punished for it.

Alexei Sayle books break the rules. Nothing expected happens, but the events feel right. The characters are never quite beyond two dimensions, but you end up really caring about them. And the writing never quite obeys all those made-up rules that other writers try so hard to follow.

The figs are a case in point.

The Weeping Women Hotel is the place where women go when there is nowhere left to go. They get on a train to anywhere, and when they get off, that is the hotel next door. Women stay for as long as they need, maybe forever. The book starts with the arrival of Harriet to the hotel, and her first breakfast. She says she doesn't want breakfast, but the receptionist tells her she does. Breakfast is the specialty of the place.

...First there was a row of brown ceramic jugs, elegantly hand-written labels before them on the stiff white-linened table describing the contents of each: there was orange, mango, melon, peach and pear juice, and all of them seemed on inspection to be freshly squeezed. Then there were the platters of cheeses, sliced ham, fresh figs. Further along were lidded dishes with a little paraffin flame burning beneath each: these were labelled 'bacon', 'sausages', 'scrambled eggs', 'wild field mushrooms' and 'today's special - huevos rancheros con chorizo'. There were piles of toast wrapped in thin creamy linen and freshly baked baguettes, pots of thick home-made jams, slabs of farmhouse butter.

This is obviously not your usual British hotel. But alongside the sense of threat there is the realisation that you really want to stay in a strange hotel that offers figs and other such delicacies for breakfast. You want to learn a martial arts that involves jumping out of the same tree every day. You want to take out membership to the Muscle Bitch gym at Pointless Park.

It's warm, and funny, and very weird. And figs for breakfast are the least of it.

Friday, 26 September 2008

Response times

Submission: Early February
Response: Late September

Professional magazine with staff.

That is all.

Wednesday, 17 September 2008

Veggie Books: I Am Legend

Garlic is one of the few bulbs that has an important role to play in horror literature.

Why? Because it repels vampires, which is really useful when you're stuck in a world full of them and not much else. So Robert Neville, the lone survivor of a horrible plague that has turned everyone else into a vampire, has got used to living surrounded by garlic. He reeks of it, but he cannot smell it any more. He has adapted to it, just as he has adapted to a world in which his opinion is the only one to matter. Therefore, who cares if he stinks, or if he kills vampires, or himself? He must satisfy his own moralistic sense, and not the readers'. Therefore, it's inevitable that we look at some of his behaviour from a distance, and find ourselves disagreeing with his choices by the end of the novel. He does not live in a normal world, but one that he endeavours to keep normal by exercising principles of science and fair play that no longer exist.

This is most obvious when he experiments with the garlic.

'He jiggled one of the pink leathery cloves in his right palm. For seven months now he'd strung them together into aromatic necklaces and hung them outside his house without the remotest idea why they chased the vampires away. It was time he learned why.

'He put the clove on the sink ledge. Leek, onion, shallot and chive. Would they all work as well as garlic? He'd really feel like a fool if they did, after searching miles around for garlic when onions were everywhere.'

Is it ridiculous to think onions might have the same effect? It makes me smile, as a reader, because I'm surrounded by the weight of horror literature on the subject. I don't know why garlic works; it just does. And an onion isn't going to cut the mustard. But Robert Neville has been cut free from such knowledge. He is a lone experimenter in a terrible world that makes no sense. A world in which there's going to be no room for garlic.

Here, the garlic represents the past, the familiar, all that must be looked at afresh. We smell the garlic, although he does not.

Tuesday, 16 September 2008

Responding to Aliya responding to David

The time-travelling one with the cure for malaria

An SF novelette called Skipping Stones, due for serialised inclusion in Farrago's Wainscot. This is the story's third acceptance. One of the other publishers turnedaround the decision to publish and the second one folded. This story was co-written with Ekaterina Sedia.

The novel condensed into a short story which is actually rather good

A proper, literary short story this one, covering the lifetime of a couple and its family.

The science fiction gangster book with Aliya

Kind of the purpose of this blog, if someone publishes it. 'Under consideration' at the moment

The story with Aliya

This one is called Overturned and is split into three viewpoints: a girl's fantasy, a crime caper and a relationship breakdown

The other story with Aliya

Another story that was accepted, sat on for about two years and then the publisher decided not to release the book. This is in a kind of 2000ad post-apocalypse stylee

And uncompleted:

The Novel

I've actually been making some more headway on this recently. Who knows, might have it finished before dead o'clock

The Young Adult

I lost the manuscript. I need to re-write the whole thing.

The science fiction rock musical

Not as bad as We Will Rock You sounds. It has shades of Christopher Marlowe, Mary Shelley, Alice in Chains and Creedence Clearwater Revival

There is more, but that's all you're getting for now.

Sunday, 7 September 2008

Veggie Books: Bel Canto

There aren't many books out there that use a vegetable in a symbolic fashion, but if authors were keener to express the inner lives of their characters in veggie fashion then I think the onion might be the most popular option.

Onions are deep. Onions have layers. They can be spring, red or pickled. They have tough skins and inner hearts. They make you cry.

In Bel Canto, guests at a party given for a Japanese businessman are held hostage. At first, they think of nothing but their possible deaths. But, as Ann Patchett points out, it's difficult to keep up that level of worry for too long, so as the days pass the fear gives way to other emotions. The terrorists start to become people to the hostages, and vice versa. For the first time it's noticed that two of the terrorists are women. And issues such as food begin to become important.

Raw ingredients are shipped in to enable the hostages to cook, but the terrorist Generals will not allow them to use knives. So the two women terrorists are told to help with the preparation.

Thibault, the Frenchman in charge of the cooking by virtue of being French, asks Beatriz, one of the terrorists, to chop the onions. At one point while she chops he picks up another knife, forgetting that he is not meant to touch them. Beatriz immediately trains her gun on him.

"He isn't supposed to hold the knife," Beatriz said in Spanish. "The General told us that. Doesn't anybody listen?" She kept her gun aimed, her heavy eyebrows pointed down. Her eyes were starting to water from the fumes of the onions, and soon there were tears washing over her cheeks, which everyone misunderstood.

The hostages think she is crying for some other reason, an emotional reason, and so her control is lost and she has become human to them. It soon becomes obvious that she's not going to ever shoot one of them, and the lines between victim and aggressor are lost.

Onions have a lot to answer for, huh?

Great book.

Friday, 5 September 2008

Real writers do it longhand

Aliya and I have several things in common, including brown hair and eyes (the irises, not the whites, obviously), fairly average heights for our respective genders, both being parents of young daughters and the fact we're at odds with the world due to our sinistral persuasions. Perhaps most importantly, we both write long hand. Only difference is, Aliya has a nice auntie who sends her notebooks every Christmas.

I spent much of this week traipsing the West End looking for a conveniently-sized writing book of modest quality and feel, with well-spaced lines. Not much to ask? My last nice writing book was a present, and once you've tasted quality, it's hard to go back to spiral bound office notebooks.

Stationers were useless, as was the internet. John Lewis, Waterstones and House of Fraser were all extremely disappointing. In the end I got a nice Moleskin pad from Selfridges. There was a scarily priced concession for a company called something like Allins of London. I picked up an awkwardly shelved navy blue number there without a price tag visible. It was £89. And the Moleskin I ended up with (just over sixteen quid) is a nicer colour with better-spaced lines.

If anyone can recommend somewhere other than Selfridges for future buys, I'm all ears. And no, PC World doesn't cut it. Not even if there's a soulless Staples next door.

Sunday, 31 August 2008

Veggie Books - Tokyo

Mo Hayder's Tokyo is not a book about vegetables. Only one vegetable makes an appearance in the whole novel:

'Food arrived on the table: slabs of tuna piled like dominoes on beds of nettle; bowls of walnut tofu sprinkled with seaweed; grated radish, crunchy as salt. Bison sat immobilised, staring down at his plate of yakitori chicken, as if it posed a huge problem, his face pale and sweaty, as if he might be sick. I watched him in silence, thinking of how he'd been last time at the club, his expression of amazement, the way he'd been transfixed by the residue on the sides of Fuyuki's glass. Just like Strawberry, I thought. He doesn't want to eat the meat. He's heard the same stories she has...'

This is a book about meat.

It's one of those thrillers that has an absolute through-line of action. Every event builds to the next. The sequences set in the past dovetail with the discoveries being made in the present. It's all so logical in process that it becomes easier to swallow (sorry) the horrors being unveiled, such as the massacre of Nanking and the darkest deeds in modern Japan.

Life isn't like that, of course. One thing never leads to another. But I do have admiration for novelists who can condense in that way, so that readers are immersed in the purest form of entertainment: the thrill of the chase, whether that's to the eventual discovery, or running away from the demons that follow. Tokyo has both of those thrills.

But just the one radish.

Thursday, 28 August 2008

Small press shenanigans 2

About two months ago I queried whether a story I had sent had been received by a barely-paying market. The answer was yes. The signs were good. That means it's on a holding pile.

I waited a couple of months. Then queried again. Er, no, we have no record of your story, so we must assume it's been rejected.

What a lovely assumption. Thanks, Editors.

The following may be biased:

Let's take five examples of people I think do the job well. With class, respect for the writers contributing and professionalism.

Djibril, at FutureFire, publishes probably a comparable site to the one that got back to me as above. I doubt he would ever dream of doing something similar: FutureFire pays its contributors a token (I'm sure he won't mind me saying that. Course, it probably doesn't feel like a token to him having to continue forking out), but edits contributor stories in a professional way and presents them in a manner befitting the audience. Hopefully much like Serendipity, FutureFire does small press with a level of professionalism sadly missing in the field. I have had similar positive experiences with Electric Velocipede and Trunk Stories. Going one further, favourites Apex Digest take this to another level, but that's to be expected as the mag is knocking on the door of the professionals and threatening them with a big stick.

Of the places that have rejected stories, it's the larger--and I assume busier (ie, need more editorial work, have lots more submissions to read) publications that have the best response times and the most polite staff. If you tell an author to expect a form rejection, that's what they'll expect and feel like Gods if they're given a personal response to a submission, even if it's a rejection. Strange Horizons and Clarkesworld Magazine are shiny shinys here, as is Nemonymous.

I have run two no pay or limited pay online magazines and been involved in several print anthologies. Here's the thing: if you have clear guidelines and unless you're paying rates of more than about £50/$100, you just won't get the hundreds of submissions people complain about. For Serendipity, we have a pretty nice hit rate. Believe it or not we publish about forty per cent of stories submitted. I don't know if that's because the stories we look for are of a particular quirk that no self-respecting godawful writer is likely to submit to (of the sixty per cent we don't publish, maybe twenty per cent fall into the godawful or haven't-read-the-guidelines-we don't publish-Power Rangers-slash fiction categories. It's certainly not for a lack of people knowing about the magazine. We get between 30,000 (for a sketchy issue) to 60,000 page impressions a month.

So, in brief, editors. You who pay little or no money, unless you are very special (Elastic Press notwithstanding), neither I--nor Aliya--will send you our near-unpublishable stories. Editors, if your response times are over six months and you're not Albedo 1 (just coz they've been really nice to me), we won't submit to you either. So there.

Come on writers. Take the fight back to them. Half these people--ie the bad ones--aren't editors anyway. They're just dreadful writers without the staying power to improve their craft so they're trying to get prestige the easy way, by publishing others. I should know, I'm one of them. ;)

Monday, 25 August 2008

Food for thought

As promised, a week’s worth of eating. The big question is, have I cut down on chocolate? Sorry about all the spaces. I can't be bothered removing them.


Home-made chicken Kiev with new potatoes, petit pois and broccoli

Home-made lemon drizzle cake with clotted cream


Poached egg, toast and ham

Home-made dark chocolate cup-cake

Ciabatta and salad (including home-grown tomatoes, Aliya, sorry)

Square of dark mint chocolate

Mushroom burgers in stone-baked bread, chips, homous and salad (including shop-bought tomatoes, sorry Aliya)

Organic chocolate ice-cream with raspberries

Sunday (feast day!)

Scrambled egg and mushrooms with toast

Square of dark mint chocolate


Two handfuls of wild blackberries picked whilst out walking the dog

Round the in-laws:

Roast lamb with mint sauce, roast potatoes, runner beans, carrots, garden peas and marrow

Blackcurrant pie with cream

Summer fruits with chocolate ice-cream

Back home:

Cheese and tomato (sorry Aliya) on toast


Wheat biscuits (like Weetabix)

Chocolate rice cereal bar

Ham sandwiches


Bubble and squeak potato rostis (with bacon, cabbage and carrot), with warm salad (including boiled egg, and yes, some tomatoes—sorry, Aliya)


Wheat biscuits again

Fruity cereal bar

Ham, cheese and tomato (sorry, Aliya) baguette)

Cashew nuts


Spaghetti Bolognese with vegetarian mince (and some more home-grown tomatoes, Aliya. What can I say?)

Couple of squares of dark chocolate


Can’t remember what I had for breakfast. Sorry. It didn’t involve chocolate though.

Chocolate cereal bar

Chicken and stuffing sandwich

Pepper Focaccia

Scampi with chips, peas and tartare sauce

Organic chocolate ice cream with raspberries and strawberries


Malted wheats (kind of like a slightly healthier version of Shreddies)

Raisin and chocolate cereal bar

Ham sandwiches



I can't remember. Was it fish? But there were some chunky chips in the pub at lunchtime. Saturday I made a tasty vegetable risotto for dinner. Chocolate would have been a factor on both days.

Tuesday, 19 August 2008

Which type of writer are you?

I'm sure Mr Cords and his gold-pantalooned friend are lovely people, but, but if no one tells them, they're not going to learn, are they?

Following Aliya's post, here's my theory about the social archetypes of writer:

Tier 5 - gregarious failures (ie, they are too get round to writing enough)
Tier 4 - introverted minor successes
Tier 3 - gregarious mainstream commercial successes
Tier 2 - literary snobs
Tier 1 - tortured geniuses

So, which one are you?

Veggie Books: Lilith's Brood

There's something sexy about a banana.

Maybe we're drawn on a primitive level. Our monkey brains might have a particular fancy for them. Or maybe it's the ease of unpeeling and eating - a fruit without hard work required. Symbolic of bountiful nature, the seat of humanity, hot days and nights. And custard.

Okay, maybe not custard.

Anyhoo, I think Octavia Butler is an amazing writer. Here's her background:

Octavia E Butler (1947-2006) was the first black woman to come into international prominence as a science fiction writer. Incorporating powerful, spare language and rich, well-developed characters, her work tackled race, gender, religion, poverty, power, politics, and science in a way that touched readers of all backgrounds.

Lilith's Brood is a trilogy of books set, initially, in orbit around an Earth that has been destroyed by warring humankind. Aliens called Ooankali, travellers who seek genetic material and information, have preserved a few remaining humans, and now they are ready to awaken these humans, breed with them, and start a whole new race.

Lilith is the main character of the first book, and although she is pretty much the only human in that book (Dawn), we do not always empathise only with her. We understand the Ooankali's viewpoint - how they see humanity's self-destructiveness as a problem that must be overcome genetically by merging with another, wiser, race. The Ooankali empathise with Lilith, but see her as a child, and she is not really given a choice. She will be seduced into becoming the mother of a new form of life, sexually and emotionally. And it all starts with the act of offering her a banana.

Darn those bananas. We can't resist them.

Friday, 15 August 2008

Food glorious chocolate

I have recently been re-reading Georges Perec's Life: A User's Manual, and remembered an article by Ian Jack in the Guardian quite some time ago. In it he points out that Perec once attempted to keep a list of everything he'd eaten over the course of a year. (It was a frighteningly diverse and at times curdling account).

After my fourth visit to the hygienist in twelve months (costs me £40 a pop for the privilege each time) I realise that I really need to cut down on chocolate, so, in an effort to curb my cocoa addiction and improve my general intake of food, I'm going to attempt the same thing as Perec, but for a week only. Unlike Tim Stretton, I'm not much of a list-maker/listmaker/list maker, but have a notebook for this very task. I'll post the results on here next Friday.

Wednesday, 13 August 2008

Veggie Books - Rebecca

This blog needs more vegetables.

Since I'm not veggie boxing at the moment (sounds like an olympic sport) I've devised a cunning new way to make sure you all get your five a fortnight. I've decided to blog about books that contain vegetables. Or fruits - I'm not picky.

I'm going to start off with one of my all-time top ten, Daphne Du Maurier's Rebecca.

I reread this recently because it's my comfort book whenever I feel stressed. There's something so involving about Manderley that it's impossible to keep worrying about your own carpets or waistline or whatever. And it struck me that there's a wonderful bit early on where the heroine daydreams about the man she's going to marry while she eats a mandarin.

She imagines herself as a great lady of Manderley, receiving guests, being adored, fitting right into a role which we already know she's unsuited for. And her husband to be says, 'I wouldn't eat the rest of that if I were you.' She realises the segments of mandarin are hard and pale. So involved was she in her daydream that she didn't notice the sour taste.

Go mandarin! Great stuff. And Du Maurier was a friend of fruit generally. She also wrote a very upsetting short story called The Apple Tree.

Daphne Du Maurier - unsung heroine of fruit.

Friday, 8 August 2008

A novel idea

Boom boom.

I learned about this through the Snowbooks blog. What a great idea.

Monday, 4 August 2008

Just blackberry me

Mmm. The blackberries are out. And I'm talking the pippy wild ones, not the PDAs. (Though for all I know, they could be out too.) And on this very subject, why are blueberries shaped more like blackcurrants but called berries?

All you writers out there, do you query? Most of the editors I've sent stuff too over the last six months appear to have taken extended sabbaticals.

Saturday, 26 July 2008

Tennant's agreement

In a effort to make things a little classier round here, Aliya and I have decided to start featuring other writers. Following up on hosting a spot for Fiona Robyn's blogtour, here's a piece of flash fiction from Interzone bod and erstwhile Whisperer of Wickedness Peter Tennant.


The body had gone. The sheets on the bed had been changed and the window opened to let a little air in the room.

Clara patted her hair and looked round to see what else needed attending to.

There was a newspaper poking out of the top of the wastebasket next to the bed.

She picked it up and briefly turned the pages. Mr. Kane had been working on the crossword the day before. Only one clue remained:-

8D: Still sweetly scented by any other name would this stop or start by getting nipped here?

Seven letters, beginning with R.

Clara smiled, and reached for a pen.

Tuesday, 22 July 2008

Serendipity 10

We made it to multiple figures. Issue 10 has stories by Rhys Hughes, Nik Perring, Damien G Walter and Lena Patten (guess which is a pseudonym).

Friday, 18 July 2008

Dick and Jane and Neil too

Yesterday I received my contributor's copy of A Dick & Jane Primer for Adults. This is a fun/peculiar and extremely dark little collection of stories. As I've previously mentioned, it's exclusive to members of the British Fantasy Society, but if you're interested in getting hold of a copy without membership, it may be worth contacting them. As well as my piece, which if I was feeling self-aggrandizing I'd perhaps describe as a mini-Shakespearean tragedy, but if I was feeling realistic I might go as far as saying it's a crime story, there are some clever stories from Conrad Williams, James Lovegrove, Adam Roberts and Liz Williams, among others. The book's edited by Lavie Tidhar.

Tuesday, 15 July 2008

Fiona Robyn's blog tour

From here on in, Aliya and I will be hosting regular flash fiction pieces by guest writers. What better way to kick things off than providing a stopping point for Queen of the hyperflash fiction, Fiona Robyn, on her blogtour, which takes place throughout July. Not even Foo Fighters hit the road this hard. More importantly perhaps than the fact she writes perfect gems about being alive is the one that she has a vegetable patch. Surely the title of this blog is proof enough that we like a decent bit of veggie culture. Fiona couldn't agree more with our veggie/writing crossover ethos:

I can't decide whether growing my own vegetables is easy-as-pie or never-ending-excrutiatingly-hard-work. It seems to depend on how often I do the weeding, and if I've just eaten some home-made blackcurrant jam. I also seem to need to learn the hard way. Last year I watered my sweetcorn seedlings on a scorching day. I knew you weren't meant to water plants in the middle of hot Summer days, but I didn't think it would do them THAT much harm. Every single one shriveled and died a painful death.

"Gardening does feel a bit like writing a novel. Little and often is the key. Paying attention to detail. Plucking out bad words/weeds. And most importantly of all, taking pleasure in the process. Getting satisfaction from completely clearing a little corner of nasty weeds. Enjoying the sensation of sliding ripe raspberries from their white cones. Yes - it's good to bite into firm new potatoes dripping in butter - but the journey is just as important... in the same way that noticing my small stones is just as important as writing them down.

Do you think everyone is capable of experiencing those special moments that are recorded by your stones?

Yes, absolutely. I'm more likely to experience those moments when I have a bit of space in my head - doing things more slowly, focussing on one thing at a time - and so I think we can all improve the chances of these moments occuring by doing the same. I still have days that pass in such a whirlwind that I don't notice a single thing properly - but at least writing a small stone gives me a daily prompt!

Here's a question in mock-haiku. It seems appropriate:

What's your favourite
gem? Tell us about it.
Why's it so special?

Hmmm that's like asking a car enthusiast to choose between his cars! I suppose some of them tend to 'strike me' with more force when I read them, such as the stones I've chosen to end each month in the book. They often tend to be shorter. A few examples of these are:

Quarter to nine:

I look and look at the huge full moon

a white rabbit bottom bobs in the beams before dissolving into the dark

blackbird on bare branches, his beak a chip of flame

A chip of flame for a beak. What a great image.

Have you ever experienced that special stone feeling and somebody else has got it too?

When you ask this question I think about two people sitting in deck chairs and watching the sun go down, but even then they'll be looking at their own sunset, through the filter of their own preferences and experiences. So no, I can't remember having shared this feeling with someone else at the time of the 'moment', but I hope that other people may experience a similar feeling when they read a few of the stones - the ones that resonate for them.

Fiona's book Small Stones: A Year of Moments is available now.

Tuesday, 8 July 2008

Very sporting of them

An unusual subject for the Veggiebox this one, as my greatest sporting achievement was either a long-term spot on the subs bench of the school basketball (we never won a match in three years) or winning a fencing 'tournament' between a dozen people who had only been doing it for six weeks. (It was epee for those interested, obviously the best form of fencing. Foil, we spit on you.) Oh, and I got a yellow belt in Shotokan Karate. Sports Personality of the Year, I know.

I come from a relatively sporting family, if by sport you mean football, but I was the black sheep there as wasn't in to it, wasn't good at it and can't get excited about it.

Men's tennis was good though, eh?

Anyway, the aim of this post is in fact football related, mainly to say well done Aston Villa for being the first premiership (I'm assuming they're in the premiership, by the way) club to forego a two million pound sponsorship deal and have the name and logo of a local hospice adorn their kits in the coming season.

Friday, 4 July 2008

You have been warned

If you live in Norfolk, don't forget to take your library books back. Or there'll be trouble.

Tuesday, 1 July 2008

What she said

My response to what people have been responding to:

To do

Go to the park at lunchtime to catch some rays
Get an anniversary card for parents-in-laws
Do some work
Finish revisions on my 'great story' on way home
Watch a bit of tennis in between looking after bubba and missa.

If I were a billionaire
I'd not work. Get some land and maybe chickens for eggs. Perhaps a holiday home in Spain or the southwest. Maybe I could move next door to Aliya in Salisbury. We can swap veggiebox goods.

Chocolate, cake and did I mention chocolate. But high quality chocolate. Green & Blacks, Vahlrona, etc. (Tried the new Seeds of Change stuff but it tastes too much like cooking chocolate.). Oh, and chocolate cake.

3 bad habits
Eating too much chocolate. Eating too much cake. Eating too much chocolate cake.

Five books
The Last Exile, by EV Seymour. One of those free books given out for publicity (see, it works) that you can't give to charity shops as they're not for resale. I won't lend it to any friends as didn't like much (but remember, Ms Seymour, all publicity is good publicity...)

Burning Bright
, Tracy Chevalier. A quirky book much more pleasant than you're expecting when you begin reading it, about a family from Dorset that move to London and work as button- and chair-makers for the circus. It's also about William Blake. Chevalier wrote Girl With A Pearl Earring

Hard-boiled Wonderland and the End of the World
. Okay, so it's very surreal and has some interesting concepts, but is my least favourite of the Murakami books I've read. Not sure if the completely forced rendering of the scientist's speech impediment was the fault of Murakami or the translator, though I'm guessing the latter.

The Pregnancy Bible, by a load of doctor types. Surely no explanation needed.

And I've just started Beatrix Potter: A Life in Nature, by Linda Lear.

Five jobs
Copy-shop assistant; Dog trainer; cat re-homer; Magazine production manager and unsuccessful writer

Five places
  • Whitechapel, East London, home to Jack the Ripper and the Krays. Very salubrious.
  • South Ockenden, Essex. Not much happens here
  • Calpe, a coastal town in Alicante and the setting of the story Aliya and I are having published in Subtle Edens
  • Selhurst, a charming London suburb within spitting distance of Croydon (note: there is sarcasm inherent in this statement)
  • Somewhere very close to Gatwick airport and one of the best towns in the country if you are looking for a charity shop, a sub-standard barbers or an estate agent. Fortunately I'm not under the flight-path

Monday, 30 June 2008

Sleep deprivation and creativity

From recent personal experience, I have to say there's no link between sleep deprivation and an increase in levels of creativity.

Monday, 23 June 2008

Internet Review of Science Fiction

I've noticed, probably belatedly, that after a period of downtime while the site was being re-designed, the rather excellent IROSF is back on the scene.

Friday, 20 June 2008

Question to the floor

Where should I submit a very good, but 'nice' mainstream story? It's just under 4,000 words. Ideally a decent paying market. Not many people seem to like nice stories. It either has to be abrasive, sad or funny. This story's not really any of the above, and I don't think it's quite right for the women's magazine market as it's structurally interesting. I suppose Granta is an outside shot, but not sure it's a perfect. And I'm not sure they accept writing not written by somebody with a first class honours degree from Oxford or Cambridge.

Any ideas?

Wednesday, 18 June 2008

Pulp skill

The Booktrade site is a great little aggregator and portal of book publishing news. If you subscribe to their news letter,there's the occasional chance of getting your hands on an early promotional copy of a new book. Oddly, most of the larger publishers on here fail to dispatch the promos, preferring instead probably just to harvest reader data for market research.

Mira Books however, a mainly crime imprint of Harlequin, are very reliable in sending out the publicity materials. I've had several books from them, mos recently The Last Exile by EV Seymour.

The last book they sent through was Jason Pinter's debut, The Mark. Thinking about Sam's immense success, and the structure of Pinter's book, especially in relation to the novel Aliya and I have written, I'm struck by what tricky tasks mainstream authors pull off.

I found it hard to read The Mark without an editor's hat on, firstly because Pinter's protagonist was a green journalist working in a high profile newsroom. I have first-hand experience of this so was looking to pick holes, but aside from alleged copy from a newspaper which rang a little flat, the author kept things sketchy enough to pull me in. In hindsight the cliches that were in place served the book well, and although I found the twist ending a little predictable, I have read scores of mainstream pulp crime thrillers. This isn't brainfood. it's entertainment Hollywood-style. (I suspect The Last Exile may be entertainment ITV Drama style).

Aliya and I have attempted to do something along these lines, but we've fused our book with SF and added some diversionary intellectualism. I'm puzzling now, following the response to Light Reading's follow-up (which in my opinion is a better book than the first, even without the re-write) disappointment, if there's room for something like this in the mainstream.

Sunday, 15 June 2008

Caribou doozy

In lieu of a proper post, here are some disclaimers.

Hope you enjoy the needlessly American title of this post.

Wednesday, 11 June 2008

Something for the weekend

Not quite as classy Aliya's barnet, but it's a start, Tim.

Tuesday, 3 June 2008

Tumbleweed takeover

Aliya's happily testing out her new bikini combo in Brittany and I'm straining under the impending burden of fatherhood so things--at least for a week or so--will be fairly quietly round these here parts.

In the meantime, I suggest you hum something nice to yourself, or check out Ms Whiteley's old columns on WoW or this or this or indeed this.

Friday, 30 May 2008

Whole lotta slugs

I'm having a naff time of it on the veggie front. My cucumbers--possibly the slowest growing plant on the planet--were doing so well, reaching for their canes with loving tenderness. I was looking forward to the flowers more than anything as I'm not that big on cucumbers. But then the rains came, and the slugs, and where last night I had two fine if short specimens of cucumber plants, this morning there was just a tiny bent stalk and a fat slug. What a waste of a gro-bag.

And my tomato plant's unhappy too. It's asking where the sunshine went, and why Aliya doesn't like it.

Sorry to be boring, but my favourite LedZep song is Whole Lotta Love. That and Riverside Blues.

Bon voyage, Mms Whiteley.

Tuesday, 20 May 2008

Dick, Jane and the Beatniks, man

Lavie Tidhar, he of travelling and science fiction short story fame (he has the lead story in the current issue of Interzone), quite some time back commissioned a load of stories for his Dick & Jane Primer for Adults. The stories come from folks like Adam Roberts, Conrad Williams, James Lovegrove, and son. There's an absolutely cracking story from Liz Williams and, yes, this isn't all about the altruism as there's a story from me in there too. Well, it is finally be published, in June, but only available to members of the British Fantasy Society. I'm assuming it will be mailing out with Prism, their magazine.

In other news, it looks like back in August of last year, hepcat online litzine the Beat published one of my stories. They may have told me about it, but if they did, I forgot. You can read it for free anyway, and it's quite good. It's called The Flautist.

Saturday, 17 May 2008

Serendipity 9

The new Serendipity is up. Includes stories from Hal Duncan and Rudyard Kipling, and some book reviews and other stuff for your enjoyment. There are no tomatoes. Serendipity be here.

In other news, my own tomato plant is now flowering, and my runner beans are running up their bean poles. Cucumbers need transferring to a bigger home, as do some of the lettuces, and I think my pepper is missing the sunshine that so cruelly went away.
I'm off to squish some black-fly.

Wednesday, 14 May 2008

Where I’m at

I vividly remember writing my first story, fan fiction for The Biskits, when I was five or six. My hair was really rather long for a young boy. I followed this up the year after with my first proper story, about a family of toothbrushes, one of whom falls out of the beaker where they live and has to be rescued (a pulley system made of dental floss would have been the preferred method, but I’m pretty sure it didn’t feature in the story). This wasn’t published but did earn a gold star and smiley face.

I got the writing bug again when I had my first exposure to a proper computer, as opposed to an arcade machine of Atari games console, and wrote an anthropomorphic story about a fox and a squirrel living in some nice woods. Hair was still relatively long. This was also the year I had my first published piece appear in Marvel’s Transformers comic. It was a pseudonymous letter in which I pointed out lots of typos.

When I was sixteen I started growing my hair and had my first ‘poem’ published in an anthology by Poetry Now. From 1997 until 2000 I was in a band that never was and my very long hair was not cut very often, although bits of it did turn a shade of blue. I also wrote lots of pretty good alt-punk songs with a friend and worked as a dog trainer for Battersea Dogs’ Home.

New millennium, new start. I met and moved in with my wife-to-be and got my first office job, wrote Nicolo’s Gifts and had several short stories published. A year or so later I had my first paid-for story published by 3LBE and had a story included in Bluechrome’s first anthology. Sam Hayes won the competition for best story. Bluechrome also published Nicolo’s Gifts, which a few agents rejected and which wasn’t quite so terrible as I like to make out but was in dire need of editing

The next couple of years saw more short stories published, and several others not published. I started work on a new book as soon as I finished Nicolo’s Gifts and this book remains my skull-on-the-shelf-elephant-in-the-room. With a colleague I set up Fragment, a nice online PDF zine before devoted to music and short stories and it also dawned on me what bad a writer I am so I join a writing group. This is around the time Aliya and I started emailing and I met Lavie Tidhar, for whom I reviewed some small press titles on the defunct Dusk site.

2005 saw the publication of Book of Voices, an anthology I project managed for Flame Books, with Sierra Leone PEN’s founder Mike Butscher (now on the International PEN board) as front-man. The aim of it was to raise awareness about the work of Sierra Leone PEN, which it did relatively successfully. The book had stories from, amongst others, Patrick Neate, Gregory Norminton, Tanith Lee and Jeffrey Ford, as well as an introduction by Caryl Philips. It also got a great review in the Irish Times and a cover blurb from David Mitchell (the Cloud Atlas one, not the Peepshow one).

I arranged the launch of the book at the Royal Festival Hall, pre-refurbishment, and got it included as part of the BBC’s Africa Season. Aminatta Forna gave a rousing speech at the launch, there were readings, the British Council paid for contributor Brian James to be flown over from Freetown and everyone had wine and orange juice. If I make no other significant contribution to the arts during my lifetime, I at least did this.

This was also the year The Elastic Book of Numbers was released, within which I had a story. The book won the British Fantasy Award for Best Anthology. I also wrote a novelette with Ekaterina Sedia, which is first accepted by someone that wants to give us money for it, then changes their mind, then another, nicer, publisher accepts it, but then folds. (Ed: We now have someone willing to put this out for us. Watch this space.)

After all this I start a blog, which I’m useless at maintaining, so I go on holiday and change job and while I’m away Aliya fills in on the blog. We decide to share the blog. Sharing a blog kind of works, so we decide to share a short story. It kind of works too, and gets accepted for publication, so we write another one.

After promising not to do anymore distracting side projects, I start Serendipity with Ben Coppin, who published one of my stories in Darker Matter, his previous zine.

The publisher for mine and Aliya’s first story folds, but not before I have harangued her into writing a full-blown novel with me. Besides, the second story we wrote is accepted for publication anyway.

Now the first co-written book is finished and here were are. Aliya has a world-class agent, a three-book hardback deal with trade paperback agreement for the second book, critical acclaim in the British broadsheets and some low-grade genre writer attempting to hitch a ride on her coat-tails.

Monday, 5 May 2008

Have I got a question of books for you?

A while ago I had the idea of doing a book quiz similarly to popular tv quiz formats; this was before I was aware of BBC4's The Book Quiz, hosted by Kirsty Wark, with an audience that was rejected by Mastermind for being too dull and a group of particularly repressed contestants in the main that have nothing in common more than they have something to do with publishing or fiction and poetry journalism. Of more interest than most is Daisy Goodwin, who spends the majority of the shows she has been in looking at her fingernails and avoiding eye contact with people, like she'd rather be anywhere else. I know not everyone interested in books is a social abomination looking to do no more than further the idea of books as being nerdish, but someone forgot to tell that to the producers of the programme. In some ways it's made me more interested in putting together this little quiz, if only to show that writers can be erudite, witty and personable in reality as well as on the page.

Wednesday, 30 April 2008

Aliya in the sky with diamonds

So Aliya's story, In the Clouds, which was in the first issue of Serendipity, got a notable story from Story South's Million Writers scheme. Go her. Go Serendipity. Go go Gadget gravy...

Tuesday, 29 April 2008

Six things about Aliya

1. She’s part of a new breed of English woman that’s taken to wearing top hats as a fashion statement. Given that she’s very tall (6’3”), this can be quite intimidating for the shorter man

2. Although Aliya’s dislike of tomatoes is well documented, what isn’t so well known (because she’s a little embarrassed about it) is her love of tomato ketchup, which she pours on practically all savoury foods, including salads and soups. Eurch.

3. Due to taking pity on a new classmate who had moved to Aliya’s hometown from a neighbouring county during primary school, who everyone else ignored as her grasp of English wasn’t the greatest, Aliya is fluent in Cornish.

4. Aliya hates cheap tea.

5. Aliya has a collection of yellow dungarees that she has bought from ebay. It currently numbers four pairs, but I’d be unsurprised if this grows along with her success as an author.

6. One of Aliya’s uncles is Dave Brock from seventies space-rockers Hawkwind.

Friday, 25 April 2008

Judging a book by its author

I’ve recently agreed to make the odd contribution to the Big Blog of Marvel, a new blog commenting on all things magical realist. The founder, Tamara Sellman, has asked for a picture and bio, which a lot of places do now, but which set me thinking. On Serendipity we do the same, and the magazine somehow seems to have one of the finest-faced bunch of contributors around. I promise this isn’t intentional. I don’t go around asking good looking women to submit stories, but that doesn’t stop them from doing so. (In fact, the people I have actually approached for submissions tend to be big fellas with beards, a lá Jeffrey Ford and Steven Savile). As well as the Pootle herself, there are an increasing number of others: Phyllis Anderson, Maria de la Rosa, Joanna Gardner, Julie K Rose, Kate Aton-Osias, Flavia Baralle, E Nesbit (okay, so she didn’t actually submit her story, but she fits in with the crowd)…

There was an article in one of the literary supplements a year or so ago asking whether we choose books based just as much on the way the author looks, as the blurb or recommendations. One of the examples given was of Peter Høeg, author of Miss Smilla’s Feeling for Snow. I can’t say I bought the book myself for Pete’s striking Nordic looks (I bought it because I liked the cover), but I think this is a valid point. I mean, would you buy a book written by this man. No, I thought not. Seriously though, Steve Redwood submitted a really old picture of himself for the publicity shot for Prime’s edition of Fisher of Devils, as he was worried that not being a Hollywood-faced thirty-something with Zadie Smith and Toby Litt for pals would somehow impact on his success. The thing is, I’ve a feeling he might be right. The only other option is for him to put on a few pounds around the waist and grow his beard out a bit. Am I wrong here? Don DeLillo seems to make a point of not wanting his image used to market his books, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen a picture of Michael Chabon either. Are they both really ugly, or do they just have a level of literary integrity and a lack of ego missing in most writers?

Tuesday, 22 April 2008

New Serendipity Magazine up.

Wednesday, 16 April 2008

Lists and favourites

Reasons I write that sound like cryptic crossword clues:

  1. Masochistic tendency enjoys courting constant rejection
  2. Too much un-used ink in the world
  3. Large and not entirely stable ego

Two rubbish sentiments often spouted by writers:

I don’t tell the story, the characters do. I just give them the means to do it. (Forgive me, anyone who believes this is clinically insane.)

  1. I don’t read much fiction anymore. I’m too busy

Favourite book

I know sensible people steer clear of breaking things down into numbered lists such as the above and having favourite things. I don’t think I’ve got a particular favourite anything else, but I do have a favourite book and I think it’s unlikely to be toppled from its pedestal any time soon. The book is Riddley Walker, by Russell Hoban. It’s not for everyone. For a start it’s written in a broken down and re-constructed version of English and is set in post-apocalypse Kent. But if you’re reading this blog, you’ll probably quite enjoy it. More people should read it. Go, go buy it.

Sunday, 13 April 2008

Reindeer girls

Talking of research, this is only available for a few more days, but provides a great insight into one of the cultures to feature prominently in our collaborative effort. It's also a really educational and beautiful film. Watch out for the ride on the car-ferry!

Saturday, 5 April 2008

Snow salad

I don't partake of a veggiebox, but the last couple of weeks has seen me plant some early lettuces and optimistic tomatoes (to keep Pootles at bay), along with runner beans and cucumbers. I'm sure they'll all enjoy the snow that's forecast for tonight.

And on the punctuation front, the Independent discusses semi-colons.

Tuesday, 1 April 2008

Punctuation, my dear, I don't give a damn. Or: Holy exclamation marks, Batman!!

Okay, so hands up on the hyphen front, but as lucky-winner-from-West-Sussex states, I'm not the only one. And Whiteley, I want the hyphen in time-piece put back in. The letter was written in 1943.

But can I just record for posterity, none of the exclamation marks in the book are mine. And there are 36 of them.

Friday, 28 March 2008

Writing a book together - the saga continues

I have just sent Aliya my edit, sans hyphens, of the third draft of the book. This is the point when I feel like the end is near, where I'm close to ordering the champagne and vol-au-vonts for the wrap party and shouting 'We did it! The book is finished. Publishers lock-up your daughters!'

This feeling lasts for as long as it takes Aliya to respond with something like: 'You know I said the hyphens were a problem? That was just to give you a chance at a warm-up. The real problem is this, and this, and that...'

Fingers and toes crossed everyone. She's firm but fair.

Thursday, 27 March 2008

Competition update: books still free

Okay, so maybe I'm a bit of a demanding task-master. Guess that's what comes from writing a book with Aliya. She's a tough mistress. (Note the continued use of hyphenation regardless.)

Anywway, if you want to enter the competition but find the entry requirements a little over-zealous, you can still do so by completing the following sentence:

Although I'd love a copy of Gratia Placenti or Apex Digest #7, I can't be bothered writing a duelling viewpoint with the story Neil has on Ian Hocking's Fiction Flash because I have better things to do with my time, such as...

Monday, 24 March 2008

Competition: win FREE signed books

I've a copy of Gratia Placenti, the second anthology from Apex Digest, which features my story The Listening (most of the book is US horror, my story is a kind of slipstream pseudo-crime thing), with two copies of Apex Digest #7 for runners-up. (This one contains my story Kissing Cousins, a near-future speculative fiction foray, sitting amongst a host of space-horror.)

Just riddle-me-this, veggiebox fans:

The new Fiction Flash on Ian Hocking's blog is a podcast of my very short story Before Midnight? To be in with a chance of winning, you need to write the same events from the point of view of the narrator's partner. The ones I judge best will get the goods.

Leave your attempt as a comment on this post.

Alas this competition is only open to entrants with postal addresses in the UK. Not including Aliya.

Wednesday, 12 March 2008

At the risk of repeating myself

I haven’t mentioned Sierra Leone PEN for a while, so thought I’d better rectify that.

At the tail end of the civil war in Sierra Leone journalist Mike Butscher had the rather odd idea of setting up a PEN office in Freetown. (International PEN is the NGO for ‘poets, essayists and novelists’, founded in London in the early twentieth century by, amongst others, HG Wells. It’s kind of like a writers’ version of Amnesty International.) Needless to say, whilst the civil war continued to rage, Mike was swimming upstream against a tide of hungry sharks. But, as well as providing valuable journalism about the situation in the country, he persisted with the centre. And since the war ended, the centre has gone from strength to strength, with Mike acting as Executive Secretary and building strong ties around the world, particularly with other African nations and also in Europe.

Mike has now gone on to work for Right to Play, a sport-promoting NGO in Liberia, but the PEN centre continues to flourish It has been working with schools in and around Freetown to improve child literacy rates, whilst also providing a valuable resource to local writers and students.

Although things have improved in Sierra Leone since the war, it’s still far from a barrel of laughs. Poverty is rife and the things we take for granted as writers, like pens, paper and stable access to electricity (let alone computers), publishers, bookshops and even libraries are scarce.

The PEN centre is always exceedingly grateful for any donations, particularly to build up the stock of its own library, and don’t feel you’re being vain if the one book you can spare is your own: you will easily benefit from at least a dozen voracious readers—future poets, essayists and novelists all, if you’re able to ship just one copy.

If you would like to contact Sierra Leone PEN/send contributions, opinions, queries and general comments to sierraleonepen(at) or write or send books/equipment in the more traditional manner to:


The postal service is reliable.

Monday, 10 March 2008

Sam Hayes

I just wanted to mention that, fulfilling her promise to get back to blogging, Sam Hayes has done so

Sam was extremely successful last year, selling squillions of books and even getting a commercial made for her book in German. Her first major novel, Blood Ties, is published by Headline. You can see Sam talking about the book at Meet the Author. She must have practiced for weeks to get that presentation right, or else borrowed an auto-cue from someone.

Her new novel, Unspoken, will be out in hardback in July. I fully expect to see a TV adaptation of both of them in the near future too.

I also hear she's pretty big in Australia. To top all that off, she can fly planes.

Sunday, 9 March 2008

The one benefit of Crufts

I wonder if encouraging dog shows* filters a good portion of folk with fascist tendencies away from politics.

* I'm referring to breed shows here. I have no problems with agility, flyball, obedience, working trials, sled rallies, etc.

Tuesday, 4 March 2008

As a last risotto

I'm afraid there's not a terribly large amount of food in my fridge. Tonight I will be making risotto. Red onion, garlic, organic Ecuadorian king prawn tails, red pepper and other Mediterranean vegetables, stock, etc. And some parmesan on top. Yes, I know Italians say not to mix fish and cheese, but I'm not Italian and king prawns aren't strictly fish.

Monday, 3 March 2008


Aliya isn’t the only one finally receiving some much deserved mainstream press attention. My very good friend Richard Watson recently recorded a track using musical instruments made with parts of two Ford Focuses. On Rich’s track, Six O’clock in the Morning, Mike Rutherford (Genesis and Mike and the Mechanics) plays a guitar made from a clutch plate and Kenney Jones (The Small Faces, The Faces and Keith Moon’s replacement in The Who, who coincidentally lived down the road from my Dad as a boy and is one of Stepney’s few notable exports, along with Doctor Barnardo’s Children’s Homes, Jack the Ripper and, er, the Krays) plays drums made from car wheels.

Other parts of the Fords are played by members of the National Symphony Orchestra and the Institute of Contemporary Musicians. The track, penned by Rich himself and recorded at Rutherford’s studios in Surrey, can be heard for free at the Times Online. There’s also a making of video.

All proceeds from downloads of the track go to the Teenage Cancer Trust.

Anyone looking for further Light Reading launch juice, Roger Morris, Ian Hocking and Matt Curran all have reports on the evening on their blogs. Ian’s is pretty accurate, apart from stating I was at the launch with my girlfriend. Okay, she was a girl and a friend, but I doubt my very pregnant wife supports the combination of those two separate words when applied to women in my company.

Saturday, 1 March 2008

Ladies who launch

I’m sure a pleasant evening was had by all at Goldsboro Books, for the launch party of Ms Whiteley’s new book that if you haven’t bought and read already, what are you doing reading this? Go to Amazon now and buy it.

I was impressed by the Macmillan New Writing turnout. It’s surely rare that a book imprint has such a community built up around it. Flying the MNW flag along with the editor and PR department were LC Tyler, Matt Curran, a lady with pink hair whose name someone please fill me in on, and I think the tall fellow in the corner I didn’t get a chance to meet was Tim Stretton. Hello, Tim. There was representation from Aliya’s agency too.

I would have liked to have said more than a brief passing hello to Ian Hocking, who was also there, along with his better half. I did have a bit of a chat to the very nice Alice Tait, who illustrated the cover and was in attendance with her fiancé, and the two phantom book-counting, tomato-loving veggiebox aficionados, one of whom was responsible for the spooky trailer for Light Reading, who both travelled down to London with Aliya and her parental entourage.

There were also several—count them: several—readers. I think this is the first time I have seen them in public in relation to mine or Aliya’s work. It was an eerie moment watching her sign a book for a—in case you missed it last time—reader. Their attendance was in some ways probably more appreciated than anyone else, if slightly intimidating. The whole experience has interfered slightly with my ambitions to get a proper book published.

All in all I’m sure she’s very pleased with how it all went, if a little weirded out that her book was everywhere and there was a billboard-sized picture of her face in the display window.

And no, I didn't take any pictures either.

Tuesday, 26 February 2008

Fantasies of the fairer sex

Ekaterina Sedia and Catherynne Valente, along with Prime Books and PS Publishing, all get name-checked in this article on women in SF&F up on GuardianUnlimited. Go them.

One in every three novels is published

Here are two statements about writing novels that we will put to the test:

They are published
You get paid for them

Now I know it’s not that easy to get published. I have done a bit of slush reading in my time, and for a very short while for a mainstream fiction publisher. It’s true, there are lots of books that are great, and should be published. The thing is, and the thing most people don’t tell you, hoping to persuade you to keep going and not deflate your dreams, is that most of these are published. It’s the dross that—for the main part—isn’t.

Out of say twenty manuscripts I read in a fortnight from the ‘slush pile’ for this mainstream F&SF imprint (which included those submitted by agents), there was one I loved. Okay, enjoyed, relatively. One if I had my own publishing house I would have been happy to see the light of day. One. Out of twenty manuscripts. Vetted by agents. The rest were poor, mediocre, middling or okay. So I was doing this for a couple of weeks. Twenty manuscripts a fortnight. Say the editor, publisher and editorial assistant between them got through the same amount in the same time.

That’s eighty manuscripts a fortnight. 160 a month. 1,920 completed novels a year. Sounds a lot. And it is. But if there’re only two books a week that are great, that someone would be happy to publish, that’s not so many. Especially when you need consensus from, say, three of the four editorial staff reading them; a hit rate, even with like-minded readers, of maybe seventy five per cent. Six books a month. Seventy two books a year.

That’s still quite a few books from submissions if you consider existing authors with series to manage and contracts to honour. Then you have to convince the marketers that this can work. The book I read, that was great, in comparison to the others, was maybe not entirely appropriate for a mainstream F&SF audience. Not safe enough for the already high-risk business of fiction publishing. But it did get published; had already been published in the US and possibly other places too. It was this book by Cory Doctorow. A really fabulous book. But I can see why it was passed on. Even had the editorial staff liked it, it would be a tough sell to a marketing department.

Marketing Manager: What’s it about?

Editor: Well the main character is called Alan, although sometimes his name changes, but it always starts with an A. He’s got quite a few brothers. All initialled alphabetically: Brian, Colin, Edmund, Freddie. Their names change too.

Marketing Manager: Right.

Editor: I’m not explaining it too well. Listen, the Dad is a mountain and the mother a washing machine. And there’s this sub-plot about everyone getting free wireless Internet and then there’s this girl with wings that get cut off…

Marketing Manager: [Walks away shaking head]

Editor: That’s a no then is it?

So from seventy two great books that will probably get published (and probably see numerous publishers throughout the pitching process), not all, for whatever reason, will be appropriate for mainstream publishers. With even those that are, it might be the wrong financial quarter when a manuscript with a fifty-fifty chance comes in. Or five brilliant books come in at once and there’s only room on the list for three at a push. Let’s take a quarter of that estimate of great books. That leaves just under nineteen titles suitable for mainstream publication. Now if you had eighteen and a bit books to read, I’m sure you’d have your favourites? If you only had six slots to fill for new authors for the year, and you got the best of those eighteen and a bit books in there, job done, right?

I guess what I’m trying to say is, if you have a truly great book, a proper book, you have a one in three chance of getting it published. So write three great books; get the first one published, and then when the creative well runs dry, you’re still sitting on two great books.

Just once that happens, don’t expect the money to start rolling on in. I’ll leave Aliya to fill you in on that bit.