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.


Dr Ian Hocking said...

Great, Neil. And I, for one, thought Nicolo's Gifts was great. But what about the skull on the shelf?

And how would you describe your hair now? Don't leave us in suspense - stick with your theme, man!

Aliya Whiteley said...

Oy, parasite - I thought I suggested writing a novel together. But then it turned out my idea for a novel sucked, so we wrote your idea instead.

David Isaak said...

"...some low-grade genre writer attempting to hitch a ride on her coat-tails."

I don't regard this as a shortcoming, but a virtue. It's sort of the literary equivalent of car-pooling.

Tim Stretton said...

Hey Neil--with all this going on I forgive you for not getting to the post office...

Neil said...

Madame, I stand corrected and feel less guilty.

Tim, look, it’s just getting better. I know I haven’t sent them—they’re still in my drawer. When they finally get to you they’ll be accompanied by the latest issue of Interzone, unless you have that?

Ian, my hair is a pretty sensible length, but in need of a cut. The skull on the shelf is glaring at me day and night, but I’m not good enough to write it all.

How very egalitarian, David.

Tim Stretton said...

Interzone as well? Ambassador, you are spoiling us!