Tuesday, 1 December 2009

Books, free books and ebooks

Just a quick one - the nice people over at Editotum have launched their Scriptorium, a place to download ebooks (yes including The New Goodbye for free--actually, lucky me, it's the only book on the site at the moment). You can also buy real-life regular paper books from them too if you're so inclined.

Wednesday, 25 November 2009

Dog Judo

This may warp your opinion of me, but I think this, Dog Judo, is brilliant.

New episode tomorrow, apparently.

Friday, 13 November 2009

Telling tales

Congrats to Sam. Tell Tale was released in hardback today. She's a report on her blog on a couple of recent interviews and photo shoots she's been the subject of, including one for a Sunday Times supplement no less.

The rest of us will just hang in here, dreaming to one day come close to the type of much deserved success she's been enjoying in recent years.

Well done, Sam! x

Tuesday, 10 November 2009

Let it be: Doug Worgul's Thin Blue Smoke

I just had a week off work, which was nice. I also took a couple of weeks off from writing fiction, which was odd. Don’t worry, I’m not ill. Yesterday I pulled a rather nice flash piece out of the bag.

I had intended to post a bonfire night-themed story up here on the fifth or sixth, but didn’t get round to it. Maybe next year. The moment’s passed for now.

So there’re lots of things I haven’t done during my week off. What I have done, along with seeing some farm animals and visiting NT properties, is finish reading Doug Worgul’s Thin Blue Smoke (which Aliya raved about on this very blog way back when).

Take note. This is a very very good book and I urge you to go out and get a copy and read it. It is is about barbecue, blues (there’s a cameo by BB King) and God, a little bit. Primarily the book’s about love and redemption. So yes, it’s a good solid book, with the chapters consisting of subtly nested short stories. Top notch. Buy it.

What I was struck by when I came to the end of it though is how my understanding of the editing process interfered with how I appreciated the book’s conclusion. Thin Blue Smoke is pretty much constructed from these wonderful chapters that work as standalone short stories. David Mitchell did something similar with Black Swan Green, but Doug’s book is far more tightly plotted and due to this, for me, the achievement is more remarkable. Add to this the spot-on prose, the connoisseur’s appreciation of barbecue and of Christianity and the outstanding characterisation and all is well with the world.

But then, right at the end of the book, I felt like the rug was pulled out from me a little. The ending is serviceable enough, and perfectly plotted. I’m still happy to recommend the book profusely, but the ending (and I’m talking the ending of the book proper and not the epilogue, which is fine) smacked to me of editorial interference. But here’s the rub—Doug tells me this wasn’t the case. The ending is all his and fits with his original vision for it.

My perception was probably coloured by my feelings that the subplot about a criminal jars a little with the tone of the rest of the book, and lends it a certain ‘commercialibility’(I’m sure some marketing and books sales people somewhere use that non-word on a daily basis), but probably more than that it was being aware as I am of how the original version of Aliya’s Light Reading ended and that changes were made to what was can only be described as the blackest possible comic ending, to one with an eye on the potential of a suggested series. After much hard work and one and a half books written, Aliya recently announced that, actually, given market forces, the series is a no-go. Think of something else. She’s fine with it. But the irony is her book was tampered with—weakened in my opinion—to shoehorn in the opportunity for a series that never materialised. Knowing this made me wondered if any such tampering had gone on with Thin Blue Smoke.

I love the fact that as a writer it’s hard for an author to keep me satisfied. I look for the holes and slip-ups in voice and technique and it’s when a book—a book like Doug’s—is capable of being enjoyed by me without a single consideration of the technical process of writing, I know it’s a very good book indeed.

I like, for instance, Laura Lipmann—she of the spiderweb of coloured cord fame from the article Aliya linked to that’s on the WSJ site—and Jason Pinter well enough, but the cracks in technique are yawning ones in comparison to Doug’s writing, and down the scale slides to Mr Brown…

So there should have been no suspicion, really. Yet there was. And my enjoyment, my satisfaction at reaching the book’s end, was marred.

So know this as you go off and buy this grand book (there are plenty of turtles in it too, if you like turtles—I’m kind of ambivalent about them, but if helps shift a few copies), the book is the book the writer wrote. In all it’s glory, and should be enjoyed as such.

Thanks, Doug.

Thursday, 5 November 2009

Amnesty of rejection

A proposed exhibition at the Royal College of Art is calling for your rejections. They will be displayed and then recycled to create "a document of positive affirmation".

According to the RCA's Students' Union blog, chosen letters will be on display in the Union for a two to three week period which will culminate in a "Bacchanal" on 11 December.

All the letters will be destroyed (shredded) and then recycled; turned into a "positive document" that, along with photographs of the process, will be framed and hung somewhere in the college.

The full story from Mark is up on Creative Review.

Monday, 26 October 2009

Aliya is ill with piggy 'flu. Nature's not all bad though. For those who missed it, or are in the States:

Friday, 23 October 2009

Acts of publishing violence

So yesterday I did this

It's about clever covers and the e-publishing revolution. I might have much more to say on the latter subject at some point in the near future, but, like Aliya says, it's all if if if if when it comes to this industry.

Friday, 16 October 2009

Talking of new goodbyes

It appears New Goodbye is the name of a track by great alt-country Newfoundland band Hey Rosetta!

Here's the blurb on their latest album:

The six-piece group is comprised of Tim Baker (vocals/piano/guitar), Adam Hogan (guitar), Josh Ward (bass), Phil Maloney (drums), Erin Aurich (violin), and Romesh Thavanathan (cello). Recorded in the dead of winter in two East Coast harbour towns with producer and singer-songwriter Hawksley Workman, Into Your Lungs began with a beautiful naivety and confidence. An 'off the stage' feel and vigor reminiscent of the bands powerful live performances rooted the recording sessions and everything was bred from and expanded from there.

And here's a video of them playing it live, complete with passing cars:

Thursday, 15 October 2009

The New Book: The New Goodbye

Yes, it's a new book by me. A short story collection to be precise. Most of the stories in there have been published previously, and the ones that haven't, well, they're better than the ones already out anyway.

Here's the official blurb:

In this collection of realist short stories, Neil George Ayres details the often overlooked depth of modern relationships. From the self-contained love story of a modern marriage, through to the microcosm of the patrons of a working class public house, all life is here. If you love Raymond Carver or Jon McGregor, you should be in safe hands.

The book is available completely free. And, as is usual with me, it's short too, being comprised of a mix of traditional shorts and a couple of stories structured from linked flash pieces.

The cover image is by the talented Jaci Berkopec. And the book is produced and distributed courtesy of the nice people at Smashwords.

The book can be read online, or in the following ereader formats and computer document formats:

Kindle (.mobi)Download
Epub (open industry format, good for Stanza reader, others)Download
PDF (good for highly formatted books, or for home printing)Download
RTF (readable on most word processors)Download
LRF (for Sony Reader)Download
Palm Doc (PDB) (for Palm reading devices)Download

It should also be available on the Sony ebook store and from Barnes & Noble fairly soon, but it's free, so doesn't matter too much where you pick it up from.

Review, are of course, always welcome. Hope you like it.

Tuesday, 13 October 2009

Kevin Smith vs Jeanette Winterson

In response to last Friday's Newsnight Review (no I didn't see it--way past my bedtime these days--will iPlayer it soon), Damien G Walter has an interesting post on 'Sci-Fi' versus SF&H up on the Guardian blog. Oh, and he has a new domain name too.

In other news, my love affair with Holby City may be coming to an end. Tonight will prove the pudding, or something. If it is, and it does, then I need a new weekly hour-long soapy type thing to get my teeth into.

Monday, 12 October 2009

Write what you don't know

Tim Stretton has recently been keeping quite a detailed record of his wranglings with embarking on writing a new historical fiction. What I've ben interested in is his reading matter. He is digging into his genre, in an effort to find out more about his chosen period, sure, but also as they're the type of books he likes to read.

As close observers may know, I am in the throes of writing an SF novel (am about halfway through the first draft, and have a very able advisor for the more technical elements of the book), but my science fiction reading, especially in recent years, has been pretty limited, and what I have read, outside of Interzone, I've found pretty dull (Stephen Baxter, Greg Bear...) I never have really been a big SF reader, more fantasy. I've never read Asimov, or Zelazny. What gives me hope is I remember reading some while ago that Neil Gaiman always wanted to be a science fiction writer, as that was what he loved, but ended up writing fantasy.

Part of this new book is set in post-almost apocalyptic Britain where I'm on firmer ground--thank you 2000AD et al--but the other section is set in a, for want of a more appropriate phrase, virtual reality.

Outside of Neuromancer, I'm not much of a cyberpunk. I toyed with the idea of reading Neal Stephenson's Snow Crash, and also gave Charles Stross' Halting State a go recently, but these books are built, really, around gaming, which is something that, obviously others have done already, and also doesn't interest me much. But, perhaps more to the point, I find them a little intimidating. They make me wonder if I can really pull this off.

Overrated, overpriced and not great in the bath...

I quote Victoria Coren's article from yesterday's Guardian:

"...everyone tells me the book is a tremendous success. A thousand copies already! Meanwhile, the Observer sells nearly half-a-million copies a week and everybody says newspapers are "ailing and cannot survive". By that logic, books are dead, buried, maggot-eaten, mouldering skeletons without even a desperate scratch on the coffin lid from a single twitching finger."


Saturday, 10 October 2009

What do women think about?

My new literary novel is pretty much told from the point of view of a female character. I'm hoping I can pull this off convincingly, but any tips from the ladies much appreciated.

Personal Holloway

There's an in-depth interview with moral investigator Richard Holloway over on Vulpes Libres.

I read his Godless Morality a few years ago and thought it was excellent.

Friday, 9 October 2009

Reader, I couldn't find him...

So yesterday I started looking for an ebook reader in earnest. D'you know what--correct me if I'm wrong here someone who knows better, but, in the UK, unless you're happy to use an iPhone (which I'm--screen's too small and I don't use my phone enough to warrant the expense), I'd say don't bother. Sony's Touch looks okay, but it's not wireless, and is stupidly expensive, and you have to buy a separate memory card. The Blackwells BeBook has an MP3 player--groovy, but looks like you shouldn't pay more than about twenty quid for it (stick a nought on that for the actual price) and the Kindle, which I'm sure is very nice, looks too big and has that hulking pointless keypad on it.

I know there's likely to be a Kindle DX (the wireless version) in the UK next year, but I'm sure that'll be a stupid price too. We appear to be at the stage that laptops hung at for years, overpriced and underperforming.

Anyone know of a decent wireless reader available in the UK for under two hundred pounds? Even the internet is coming up empty-handed.

Personally, I'd love for Philips to produce an EPUB-compatible Iliad that isn't at a stupid price. No doubt if they do it'll launch in the US a year before we get a sniff of it over here.

And how about those of you in America? Do you have a reader? Do you like it?

And Borders Charing Cross Road--shame on you. You had about twenty display models and none available to buy, and wouldn't even let me try one properly.

Wednesday, 7 October 2009

Forget the new Kindle

Forget the Kindle International launch, that lovable ruffian Steve Redwood has a new short story collection available.

And for those of a more Iberian persuasion, Who Needs Cleopatra?, his time travel comedy, is now available in Spanish.

Friday, 25 September 2009


Another little one - top banana item in Publisher's Weekly:

At NYU Event, Macmillan CEO Says “Free” Content Will Be Challenge for Books

Thursday, 24 September 2009

Digital revolution

The BBC are attempting to create an open source documentary about the internet, to be broadcast on BBC2 next year

Monday, 21 September 2009

Rejection, acceptance and a Merry Christmas

Over on dovergreyreader's armchair, Fay Weldon tells how she came to write her latest book, in opposition to expectations of her publishers and the marketing and sales departments therein. Guess what? It was rejected. Luckily, Corvus picked it up.

In other news, The Friday Project's An Atheist's Guide to Christmas is now available.

And in possibly my first fit of brilliant item linking, here's Weldon finding God after 70 years the non-believer. (Okay, so, yes, it's over three years old and she converted almost a decade ago, so shoot me.)

Saturday, 19 September 2009

All together now...

In response to the response to the last post

and indeed:

Here is a little song I wrote
You might want to sing it note for note
Don't worry be happy
In every life we have some trouble
When you worry you make it double
Don't worry, be happy......

Ain't got no place to lay your head
Somebody came and took your bed
Don't worry, be happy
The land lord say your rent is late
He may have to litigate
Don't worry, be happy
Lood at me I am happy
Don't worry, be happy
Here I give you my phone number
When you worry call me
I make you happy
Don't worry, be happy
Ain't got no cash, ain't got no style
Ain't got not girl to make you smile
But don't worry be happy
Cause when you worry
Your face will frown
And that will bring everybody down
So don't worry, be happy (now).....

There is this little song I wrote
I hope you learn it note for note
Like good little children
Don't worry, be happy
Listen to what I say
In your life expect some trouble
But when you worry
You make it double
Don't worry, be happy......
Don't worry don't do it, be happy
Put a smile on your face
Don't bring everybody down like this
Don't worry, it will soon past
Whatever it is
Don't worry, be happy

Friday, 18 September 2009

Sexy readers

Over on Lydia Hart's blog the hostess in question nabs a Joanne Rendell column from the Huffington Post. Very insightful it is too (although the bigger authors with marketing spends pushing their books may not be so keen on it).

I doubt very much if any publishers will take note, but working in and around the advertising industry, I think Joanne's points are valid. A shame the larger publishers are the ones who will have the budgets to actually achieve what she's suggesting, but the smaller ones tend to be the ones with the ambition to make the push.

Tuesday, 15 September 2009

"Pennies" from heaven

An amusing link from author and literary agent Nathan Bransford's blog: The Blog of Unnecessary Quotation Marks

Monday, 14 September 2009

I won't get that time back OR Come on, come on, come on, get through it...

So Aliya's given up on Wolf Hall. Like she says, she's not usually a quitter.

I managed to get through One Hundred Years of Solitude and Lark Rise to Candleord and am glad I made it, but I did abandon Le Carre's The Naive And Sentimental Lover to the whimsy of the London Transport system, and have been put off reading any more of his work. And David Hebblethwaite has just convinced me to steer clear of Oryx & Crake and The Year of the Flood by damning them with faint praise. There are scores of other similarly abandoned and never reads littering my past. But maybe I should have persevered with some (Do I really need to read Tender is the Night? The writing is beautiful but the characters--muh.) and not bothered to finish some of the others--I'm looking at you Richard Beard's The Cartoonist.

What books have you wasted time on--and wish you hadn't--and are there any you started, but didn't finish, but have a niggling suspicion maybe you should have?

Wednesday, 9 September 2009


I'm just finishing up with my copy of Watchman and readying it for its trip back into the great outdoors, and next up is Sadie Jones' The Outcast.

Here's an interview with her from last year, in the Telegraph, talking about the frustrations of screen-writing and paying her dues as a writer.

At the foot of the article are four other--kinda obvious and lazy--attempts at pointing out other authors who had a time of it trying to get published. Rowling and Austen are on there, along with Frederick Forsyth who was rejected three times--what we wouldn't all give for just the three rejections, huh. Surely there are some far greater tales of rejection prior to finding wide-ranging success?

Friday, 28 August 2009

C'est Lavie

Earlier in the month, that globetrotter Lavie Tidhar (currently sunning himself in Vietnam) announced a three-book deal with Harper Collins' SF imprint Angry Robot. They're going to be publishing The Bookman series, in Lavie's words, "...a kind of steampunk adventure novel with automatons, giant lizards, poets, pirates, airships and, you know... STUFF"

And from the Angry Robot press release:

In The Bookman, a masked terrorist of that name brings London society practically to a standstill by placing bombs inside books. After several atrocities against London’s theatres, he outdoes himself with an audacious attack on the blessing of the launch of the first expedition to Mars (by giant cannon!). For young poet Orphan, it seems his destiny is entwined with that of the shadowy terrorist, and so it turns out to be.

Like a steam-powered take on V for Vendetta, rich with satire and slashed through with wild adventure, this is book one of a series that will run to at least three volumes. The Bookman will be published by Angry Robot in Spring 2010, with sequels to follow at nine-month intervals.

Couldn’t have happened to a better man. Also congratulations to Aliette de Bodard, who has a similar deal and like Lavie has certainly paid her dues in the indie press.

Apex have also plumped to pick up Lavie’s weird spy thriller-fantasy An Occupation of Angels (published in the UK by Pendragon Press) and publish it for the first time in the US.

Monday, 24 August 2009

Who wasn't watching the Watchmen?

Due to the delights of Soouthern trains, my journey home was delayed and of a slightly circuitous route on Friday afternoon. After reading about and urging Aliya to suggest herself for a place as one of the writers on the Firestation Book Swap, and blogging a few weeks back about both Book Crossing, and my discovery of that weird John Le Carre book on the train, I took a seat at an intermediate station on my way home in front of the camera of David Berman, a photographer and film-maker making a piece on the Book Crossing project for the Surrey Mirror.

What this amounts to is little more than my hands may be seen reading a copy of Ian Rankin's Watchman, which David had left for me to discover on the free bench seat in front of his camera.

The book's a new-ish paperback, but I thought Rankin's introduction might prove encouraging to a few of late struggling with second (and third) book rejection and such-like.

Rankin wrote Watchman (yes, the title was inspired by Alan Moore's Watchmen, which came out not long before) after the first Rebus book had been published and at the time was in full-time employment as a journalist and with a three hour daily commute (no kidding) to contend with. He notes from his extensive diaries around the time that he was fairly certain he was about to be dropped by his publisher at the time. Watchman did get published, but it didn't set the world alight at the time at all, only to be re-published in more recent years when it became a bestseller.

Friday, 21 August 2009

Accountants have all the fun

I've just come over all Tim Stretton for the work in progress and had some 'fun' with spreadsheets. With a little help from Wikipedia and the Met Office, I've written an annual temperature scale for the next 150 years to add to my detailed seventy six year time-line.

Thursday, 20 August 2009

Points of view

So I'm well into the throes of the new SF novel and, as alluded to previously, there are a lot of characters in it. The whole thing is written in third person from the various points of view of this multitude of characters, and I've employed the technique of having the narration reflecting the character it's dealing with at any particular time. I'm just beginning to wonder how sensible this is. With some of the characters it's almost indiscernible, given their similar backgrounds and motivations, but with others it's very pronounced. For instance, at the most obvious level, you've got American characters where the narration will refer to their pants, whereas if they were British I'd use the term trousers, or jeans or whatever.

Any opinions on this approach? Using such a diverse group of narrative voices is part of the joy of more non-traditionally-structured (like David Mitchell's Ghostwritten), but can anyone point out this type of approach in a novel with a 'normal' multi-character structure?

Saturday, 15 August 2009

Double agents?

I don't know how wise this is putting this up here, but still, this is supposed to be a journal of mine and Aliya's experiences, as well as detailing books with vegetables in them, so...

As regular readers of the blog will know, a while back I completed a short literary novel that weighs in at around 200 pages. Scanning the shelves of any bookshop will show you that these books aren't an extinct species, but they're not exactly reproducing at a bunny-like rate, so I know this one's going to be a tough sell.

Shortly after completing this book, I was kindly introduced to an agent who was willing to take a look. Her feedback was encouraging and useful, but still resulted in a no in relation to representation.

Regular readers may also be aware that sometime ago Aliya and I finished writing a SF novel together. I asked the agent if anyone at the agency would like to take a look at this, and lo and behold, yes there was someone interested. I sent over the co-authored manuscript, along with a short sample of a new SF book I've been working on--one inspired by a story Aliya and I wrote together that didn't end up going anywhere--to this second agent and in the meantime I set about addressing the concerns with the literary novel.

A little while later this second agent got back to me with an email of two halves. It was a no on the co-written novel, but a probably on the new SF novel, if it lives up to the expectations raised by the opening. Good news.

A few weeks later I finished my revision of the literary novel, but the agency isn't interested in that anymore. They want me to concentrate on the SF. Within the next week or so I'll have the SF work in progress to the stage where they'll hopefully be able to give me a firm yes or no on whether they'll be willing to represent this new book.

I firmly believe I can juggle the demands of building up a writing career that traverses two genres, and have invested so much in my literary novel--yes, even though it's only 200 pages--and a follow up to abandon them. In all honesty, I think they're a bit special.

So I've been weighing up my options for my more literary novel. Obviously the best result would be to have a publisher take it on. If this happened I imagine my potential agent would be willing to reconsider representing me for both genres. The more likely route to publication though appears to be finding a second agent to represent the literary me. In fact this is the option suggested by the original agent, but only after I had pushed for an answer.

My issue though is, say I find this second agent, and they're interested in representing both my styles of fiction. From the little I know already, I am very keen on my potential agent. Firstly, they came with a recommendation from a pretty successful author, and so far have been rather pleasant to deal with. I know from the experiences of others this isn't a given. Secondly, I can imagine having two agents could well be more trouble than it's worth.

I know I'm getting ahead of myself a little bit here, but has anyone had any similar experiences? And if so, what decisions were made and what were the outcomes?

Thursday, 13 August 2009


It's the look of disdain on the squirrel's face that makes this so brilliant.

Wednesday, 12 August 2009

Book 'em, Damo

I've only just spotted the contentious post blogger extraordinaire Damien G Walter made a few weeks back concerning the Man Booker prize. Leaving aside definitions of genre and literary fiction (see Nathan Bransford's considered opinion on this, by way of Vulpes Libris' recent analysis of Makine's Human Love if you were looking for a good starting place for a definition)--would Damien feel it was fair for, for instance, if Yann Martel walked off with the Hugo as well as the Booker for Life of Pi? I feel the urge to stand up for Booker a bit. American Gods (which did take the Hugo that year) is a great book, but in no way is it a Booker winner. Likewise The Graveyard Book, which won this year. (Stardust, however, maybe, and Sandman, probably.) The prizes, like the books, serve different purposes and stand for different things.

I agree to a good degree with Damien's assertion that the world of literary fiction is fairly closed to those of plebian origin. From Granta's Best Young British Authors 2003 I seem to remember all were graduates, and only two were not from Oxbridge, but this isn't the main point that Damien makes, and the Booker has a long history of casting an international net, even if it tends to fall on works produced by more academic writers. I’ve actually heard an editor at one of Britain’s foremost publisher’s for SF state he or she was sick of all the (I quote from memory) ‘wide-boy Cockney gangster wannabes’ being published in the SF field, so I suspect the problems lie more with attitudes among certain members of the publishing fraternity, rather than sitting squarely on the shoulders of a foundation based, let’s face it, on the promotion of reading and the enjoyment of good literature. And it's not as though there isn't elitism in the speculative fiction world. Damien himself is an alumni of Clarion. Horses for courses, comes to mind (or perhaps courses for horses.)

In the comment trail on Damien’s post, Stewart of Booklit is right to point out that it's unlikely there were very many genre entries made to the prize, and Damien is na├»ve to think that the Booker has a responsibility to invite such entries. Surely it’s the job of a publishing house to promote its books. They at least went far enough to publish my article on how overlooked SFF&H is by the prize a couple of years back. Maybe Damien should request the full list of submitted titles from Man Booker. I would be interested to see how many—if any—genre titles were entered.

Poor hippos

I wonder if Aliya and I will finally hit the big time once we've played our part in a real crime and then co-written a fictionalised account of it.

I know there are plenty of co-authored novels out and about, but I was interested to learn--browsing the shelves on Charing Cross Road and surreptitiously sneaking copies of Light Reading onto premium shelves--of And The Hippos Were Boiled In Their Tanks, a book written by Jack Kerouac and William S Burroughs before they hit the big time. It's a fictitionalised account of a murder investigation they were both involved with. It's written as a twin-narrative, the same structure Aliya and I have used for all our pieces together (I guess the easiest form in some ways for writing a piece together, but it's also easy for the two segments to clash).

I'm sure if Aliya and I were ever to do the same, it would more likely be about our parts in an incident where someone was found to be riding a bicycle after dark without a light on.

I've not read any Burroughs, I don't think, and I read On the Road when I was seventeen. It's fair to say I didn't get it. And am in no hurry to revisit.

Also, speaking of being let down by a book, I finally finally finished One Hundred Years of Solitude. Found myself quietly disappointed. I grant the book contains great writing, both structurally and in the prose, and I don't regret reading it, but the book had been so built-up in my mind, I guess it suffered from over-hype and had far too much to live up to. The ending in particular, after the commitment required on the reader's part, left me feeling rather let down.

Still, I've heard accounts of others crying because it had ended, so it's all subjective, huh? As for the hippos, you're welcome to them.

Sunday, 9 August 2009

Transition on the wireless

Talking of Iain Banks, his new novel, Transition, is available as a free podcast on iTunes. The story is in the Times.

Saturday, 8 August 2009

Snog, marry, avoid?

We're all about the puerile games here. But I'm going to give it a literary twist. For those that don't know the rules, the object is to take a selection of three people and, rather chivalrously, decide on which one you would like to have a... ah... romantic liaison with, which you would like to devote the rest of your life to, and who you would push in the opposite direction of the nearest swimming pool if they were on fire.

For instance, from three of Haruki Murakami's books, I would opt for a romantic session with Sputnik Sweetheart, spend from here to eternity with The Wind-up Bird Chronicle, and put on a funny accent and pretend I'd moved home if Hard-boiled Wonderland at the End of the World Came knocking.

So here are three options for you.

First, for those what like the ladies, some celebrity women capable of springing more than a couple of their own words together, fashion model and novelist Sophie Dahl, journalist and tv sultry cook Nigella Lawson and comedienne and best-selling author of autobiography of Dear Fatty, Dawn French.

And for those who are more amorously inclined towards the male of the species, you've these literary heavyweight Ians to choose from: Ian McEwan, Iain Banks and Ian Rankin.

And, drop your own in the comments or make a meme, as they say, of this and repost on your own blog.

Thursday, 6 August 2009

Three things not about me

1. Fiona Robyn is blogging her new book. The whole shebang. But not for a while yet. It's called Thaw and takes the form of journal entries written by a woman who's decided to make a decision about whether life is worth the effort at the end of her next three months. (Incidentally, this is the book of Fiona's I've been looking forward to.)
2. Spain is holding an e-book fair (following the Madrid Book Fair's decision not to have anything devoted to ebooks).

I don't usually put punctuation at the end of list items, but today, I'm feeling a bit rebellious. I'm even going to leave the full stop off of this sentence

Saturday, 1 August 2009

Are you talking to me?

A couple of days ago I picked up Garth Stein's The Art of Racing in the Rain. I've read the first few pages and, to be honest, am not that struck on it. It's told from the perspective of a dog and generally I'm a sucker for the talking or anthropomorphised animal.

So here's a list of seven of my favourites:

  • Stuart Little. I was about six or seven, and had started reading happily by myself, and there's this mouse, but he can speak, and drive a motorcycle, if memory serves correctly. (I think it may be the second book.) It took me a long time to separate fact from fiction.
  • Bagheera the panther, from Rudyard Kipling's The Jungle Book. Really, this cat's far too cool for school.
  • Fievel from Richard Adams' Watership Down gets the vote for freakiest bunny in a book
  • Pedlar from Garry Kilworth's House of Tribes. A mouse in a house, but not used to being so. (Around about the same time I read this in my teens, I also read a book in translation about a cat. I think it was a Turkish or Hungarian author, and it was good, and there was a sequel. I think the picture of the front was of a Russian Blue, but I can't remember the name of the book. A single word I think, probably the cat's name. Maybe beginning with G, or am I thinking of Grendel? Obviously it didn't make as much of an impression as the meeces.)
  • Roald Dahl's Fantastic Mr Fox (I am looking forward with trepidation to the film version)
  • I'd probably choose a character from Orwell's Animal Farm too, but I was put off that by ten force-fed pages in school so have never read it. Sticking with the farmyard though, I'll take the easy, cheesy option and go with Charlotte the spider.
  • And of course to wrap up there's the one who can't talk, who really is a dog. Buck, from Jack London's Call of the Wild.
And in case you're wondering, Aesop's Fables don't count. They deal in stereotypes, not characters.

Thursday, 30 July 2009

Veggie Books: Manhattan Nocturne

I won some Colin Harrison novels in a competition, and Manhattan Nocturne was one of them. Boy, am I glad I entered that competition. It's a great thriller, and the use of language lifts it to another level. As I read it I felt jealous, and embarrassed of all the times I'd used a tired phrase rather than try to think of something new. Everything about Manhattan Nocturne is fresh. I couldn't put it down.

And, of course, it has vegetables in it. This moment occurs when the lead character, journalist Porter Wren, goes to visit the place where the body of a murdered film-maker has been found a year earlier:

...But it was the garden plots that interested me; the corn husks, dried tomato vines, and rotted flower beds separated by curving paths of scavenged brick and festooned with Christmas lights and chrome hubcaps. A small Puerto Rican flag flew over the garden, and despite the cold, chickens pecked around a shack at the rear of the lot. To one side was a bench seat from a car. An immense and eyeless stuffed animal, gray from the weather - a bear or a dog - hung from the wall of the adjacent building, as if blindly guarding the garden or perhaps, more particularly, the statue of Christ standing in the small grotto planted with roses and hollyhocks. All had been blasted by the winter, but come spring it would be a place of lushness and color, of life.

Tuesday, 28 July 2009

What kind of writer are you?

Over on the Macmillan New Writers blog, erstwhile fantasy author Tim Stretton deliberates over his immediate writing future following the rejection of his latest novel, The Last Free City, by Macmillan and explains, following discussions with editor Will Atkins, that it's now more likely he'll follow an historical fiction tack (The Last Free City and its published predecessor The Dog of the North owe as much, if not more--as Tim admits--to historical military fiction as they do to fantasy, so this makes sense. Probably painful sense, but sense nonetheless. And didn’t I start this post with a very long sentence? More of those to come below. Tim seems inspired by the opportunities opened up by reconsidering his primary genre.

I, on the other hand—like Aliya—have been dabbling with speculative fiction for a number of years now, but also write ‘literary fiction’ (I hesitate to prefix that with the word commercial, as no one’s bought it). I have a novel, sent to the aforementioned Will at Macmillan, that I strongly believe in. (A revamped version of the original is with him now, hoping against hope that he finds a willing pair of hands to take the manuscript from him and kindle it into life, rather than turn it into kindling.) I’ve embarked on a subsequent novel, working a similar seam that, if by whatever chance that first book is picked up, shows I’m attempting to build on its relatively distinctive blend of literary romance and criminal underworld shenanigans.

In the meantime, the co-written contemporary science fantasy Aliya and I wrote together winged its way off to a likely looking agent, along with a sampler from a post-apocalyptic SF novel I’m working on. No, the agent says to the co-written piece, but, hang-on maybe, says the same agent of the SF novel-in-waiting.

So I’ve now made the decision to try and be two writers at once. I’m always working on far too many projects at once anyway, and trying to steer away for new ventures. Now it appears finally--thankfully--those various projects have converged into two very distinct strands. And furthermore, I’ve discovered something very welcome. I’m getting much better at research. I appear to have found a happy medium between learning trivia and writing none of it down, and gaining genuine knowledge about a topic I’m working on and being able to improve my writing in response to that knowledge.

If we were still on LiveJournal, that bouncy little icon at the bottom of the post would be saying ‘:) positive’.

Friday, 17 July 2009

Via Persona

Some nice posts on linguist Christina Wegman's blog, which has a lovely, calm atmosphere and lashings of etymological insight.

Tuesday, 14 July 2009

Snowboarding looks like fun

The title of this post is from David Isaak's recent look at POV's in fiction. Discussing third person viewpoints he says, '[Patrick] O'Brian makes omniscience look like great fun. But, then, snowboarding looks like great fun, too--but I suspect it's actually rather hard work.'

I'm just reading Mark Rowland's excellent book The Philosopher and the Wolf (How I missed this book on release I don't know, as I'm on Granta's mailing list and used to be a dog trainer with a special interest in spitz breeds (double-coated dogs with curly tails, like huskies, Akita's and the Samoyed I share my home with), and have an active interest in wolf behaviour and philosophy.

In one chapter partially meditating on happiness, Rowlands talks about happiness containing some form of pain or misery. He describes the process of trying to think an idea that is too difficult for you to think, but that thinking on it and around it, you can eventually manage to 'capture' it, or at least hone your hunting skills in much the same way as a wolf might stalk a rabbit. This opinion applies to writing too of course, but where it differs I assume from thinking is that with thinking (and to narrative plotting to a degree, I suppose) the pinnacle of the happiness comes in the Eureka! moment. A point that Rowlands' side-steps (I can't imagine that he would counter it as not being a facet of happiness) is that of finding the groove or being in the zone. He describes boxing as a way to find the zone, but obviously boxing also involves an amount of pain, so this meshes with his assertion of happiness containing a measure of pain.

As a pretty incompetent musician, I have no illusions about my ability, and rarely have the time or inclination to practice enough to become in any way competent, but I am good enough to be able to jam with other people and hit the high of being in the groove. There's no pain involved as I have no illusions or expectation and I could apply the same principle to gardening. I suppose if you look at the entire process, writing for most of us does contain a level of uncomfortableness similar to that suggested by Rowlands, but if you strip away the publishing process, if you're a make-it-up-as-you-go-along writer or a planner with a plan in place, writing in the zone is one of the least painful forms of happiness.

Sunday, 12 July 2009

Serendipity & Veggiebox - redux

For anyone out there who liked and is missing Serendipity, I'm resurrecting it, sort of. I want tweets of a magical realist nature addressed to me on Twitter (@neilayres) and I'll retweet the ones I like best. I'll also regularly include the very best in a post on this here blog, with a credit and short bio for the author. Poems and song lyrics are as welcome as prose.

Here're some examples of the kind of thing I mean:

The speaker is a little man, shrunken and bent, who seems to shrink and bend more and more every time anyone calls him

- Italo Calvino, If On A Winter’s Night A Traveller (Translated by William Weaver)

Troll brains do not hold many memories. Mostly their minds flicker and ripple like the glossy water in a forest tarn ruffled by the wind

- Kerstin Ekman, The Forest of Hours (Translated by Anna Paterson)

Holy ghosts and talk-show hosts are planted in the sand, to beautify the foothills and shake the many hands

- The Meat Puppets, Plateau

Along similar lines, you can address your veggiebook extracts to Aliya, and she'll no doubt do the same for the best quotes, breaches of copyright notwithstanding (@bluepootle)

Veggie Books: Mary Reilly

The idea of a film about a maid in the house of Dr Jekyll never appealed to me, so it was a surprise that I enjoyed the book so much. Maybe it was the picture of Julia Robert's thin downturned mouth atremble that was unappealing. But in the novel (by Valerie Martin) Mary is not a miserable creature at all. She has strong ideas about the relationship between servants and masters, and about how to be happy, and how to keep happiness. Her own happiness has been taken from her by an abusive father, and she sees something of the same theft occurring to Henry Hekyll at the hands of his apparent friend, Edward Hyde.

This is the month to plant garlic. Mr Bradshaw told us a story that the Queen's cook chews a clove of garlic and then breathes over the royal salad, which made our cook shout with laughter.

I have not spoken to Master, although I see him much. He is always with company or has his head in a book or is going in and out. He tells me a good day, might ask for this or that, or bid me carry a message to Cook or Mr Poole, but no more, and I feel when he sees me I remind him of the house in Soho, which, it seems, he wants to forget.

As do I. I want to tell him, but how can I? I know he has said all will be well, but how can I believe it when I know that between us, nothing will ever be as it was again.

Thursday, 9 July 2009

A man in need

Scott Pack of The Friday Project needs a new pen, and you can help him get one.

If anyone's listening, I'm a cheap ballpoint man myself. And fountain pens are no use, as, like Madame Whiteley, I'm a sinistral and end up with a sleeve smeared in ink and a blotty page.

Tuesday, 7 July 2009

Veggie Books: White City Blue

I've had this book for years and have only just got around to reading it. Bad me. Still, I'm glad I did. There's something quite passionate in the writing, a strong whiff of desperation about the main character that could be off-putting but instead becomes deeply involving. That's quite an achievement for a book that's about four blokes who like to drink beer and watch football. (I'm just not a football person, okay?)

We went to the pub after that, a big old barn of a place ten miles out into the deep suburbs - somewhere like Uxbridge or Pinner. Again, it was more or less empty, and we drank cold beer under parasols in the garden and ate Ploughman's Lunches with piccalilli and onions. By the time three o'clock and closing time came around, we were beginning to feel sleepy; the running, the sun and the aftermath of the cocaine had given us a kind of perfect languor.

I hear Tim Lott's first book, The Scent of Dried Roses, is also very good. I'll go and find a copy of that, I think. Because I like the semi-colon in the paragraph above.

Friday, 3 July 2009


I've only just found out about bookcrossing

Great idea, and good for authors too. I'm all signed up now.

American date format for registering by the way

Thursday, 2 July 2009

Reading habits

I don't seem to be very good at reading a bit of a book. I can turn off after a page or two easily enough and think, don't fancy that one, but I can also--and this happens more often than not with books I don't finish--try and like a book, and attempt to get into it, and then find myself well over two-thirds of the way through with absolutely no intention of finishing.

It nags at me though, all these unfinished books, maybe they had brilliant endings.

As the ladies and gentlemen from Cadbury's creme eggs would say, How do you do it?

Saturday, 27 June 2009

White Magazine

The nice people over at Snowbooks have launched an online zine/blog thing called White Magazine and are looking for insights on writing from anyone, anywhere. Here's the spiel from head honchette Emma Barnes:

...[on the subject of writing insights] I welcome submissions from anyone - Snowbooks authors, hopeful Snowbooks authors, non-Snowbooks authors, the man down the street with the funny dog... So email away.

All you MNW'er bloggers take note.

Saturday, 20 June 2009

Tate Modern TH2058: stories

All six stories (including Remembrance, by me, and the excellent Snap-shots of the Apocalypse by Katy Wimhurst) recorded for Tate Modern's Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster's TH2058 exhibition, are read by Christopher Eccleston of Doctor Who and Heroes fame and can now be downloaded free from the Tate Modern site.

There's an interview with Gonzalez-Foerster about the exhibition, which references lots of key SF works, on the Tate Modern site too.

So that's nice.

At it again

Co-authoring something, that is. Like a chivalrous knight of yore, I'm galloping to Aliya's rescue to let my naturally optimistic nature raise her happy short sf story to the heights of ecstasy. Wish us luck. (She's done all the hard work already, it has to be said. Tip top setting and great ending in place. )

In other news, Fiona Robyn, she is of the ubiquitous The Letters has made a pretty, colour-coded blogroll.

Monday, 15 June 2009

Happy, happy, happy talk

So what book do you rate as the happiest you've read? It's a toughie, huh? Warning, spoilers for anyone that's not read every book ever.

Saturday, 13 June 2009

Glittering booths of wonder

Earlier this week I spent a couple of days working in Westminster's Central Hall, mainly manning Seamus Ryan's Glitterbooth, for the great, the good and the occasionally odd faces of the world of commercial photography, illustration and CGI. Here're the end results. And yes, there are a few of me in there.

Seamus opens his studio on Columbia Road in East London to the general public every Sunday, so if you're around the flower market, I recommend wandering in.

Monday, 8 June 2009

Veggie Books: Jude the Obscure

Early on in the book, Jude gets interested in the selfish and practical Arabella, who employs pigs in a lot of her flirting tactics. In this extract, the pigs have escaped, and she's instructed Jude to help her catch it:

He set himself to assist, and dodged this way and that over the potato rows and the cabbages. Every now and then they ran together, when he caught her for a moment and kissed her. The first pig was got back promptly; the second with some difficulty; the third, a long-legged creature, was more obstinate and agile. He plunged through a hole in the garden fence, and into the lane.

'He'll be lost if I don't follow'n!' said she. 'Come along with me!'

I much prefer Arabella to Sue, or to Jude, to be honest. Arabella gives orders. She gets what she wants, and discards it when she's through. I don't think she's immoral - after all, she decides to lawfully marry her second husband (rather than live as a bigamist) because she feels he is her 'proper' husband and it's only fair. And she doesn't have a stroke every time she has to make a decision like that.

Jude and Sue are the opposite. And you just know they'd be a really annoying couple in modern life. They'd be fruitarians. They'd only wear hemp clothes and tell everyone how any form of marriage is slavery, and rant about Gap at dinner parties, and feel superior. And deep down, they'd still be really, really sad about something. Anything. Because life's not perfect, and we can't all be morally angelic.

Bum to it, I say. Life's too short to load your guilt on to your kids and then watch them hang themselves about it.

And yes, I am aware that I may have oversimplified this book.

Friday, 5 June 2009

Back with the madding crowd

This time last week I was returning from a big family holiday (there were thirteen of us, five under sevens) just along the way (a five minute jog) from the lovely thatched cottage Hardy grew up in. For a man who felt the need to pretend he was from grander stock than he actually was, I wouldn't have minded growing up in the lovely cottage surrounded by the beauty of rural Dorset. Besides, he only lived a twenty minute drive from Monkey World!

And today was a good day, as it was my littl'un's first birthday and she is loving her trike.

Tuesday, 26 May 2009

Veggie Books: The Weight

'Ahhhh, those Greek myths. How sthuddenly they descthend upon the moorsth of Sthparta.'

No, not Jeanette Winterson, but me, in my first novella. I've always loved myths and legends and stories that don't quite add up any more because they've been told so many times by so many people for so many agendas.

Of course, Greek myths tend to be pretty big on fruit, so it came as no surprise to find apples in this retelling of the myth of Atlas.

In his garden, Atlas went to pick the three golden apples.

As his hand went towards the first, he felt a rumbling under his feet, and he had to steady himself against the tree. The tree bark was cool as silver, though the apple dropped into his hand like molten gold. It was as if somebody else had picked the apple and given it to him. Uneasily he looked around. There was no one there. There was only the cool night.

By the way, have you noticed how there seem to be a lot more fruit and veg in books nowadays? Or is it just because I'm looking for them? I hate to say this, but I have noticed a correlation - lots of veg, good book. That's all I'm saying.

Tuesday, 19 May 2009

Veggie Books: The Steep Approach To Garbadale

There's a feeling when you pick up a book by an author you admire that can only be described as relishing a safe pair of hands. I get that with Iain Banks. I know I'm in for a good read. His style is warm and soothing on my brain.

How bad could this be? At first she'd thought he was exaggerating when he'd fallen like a sack of potatoes and curled up like a hedgehog. Now she thought he probably really was in intense pain.

Scrabbles gave a cough and flexed one hind leg again, backing towards the two of them. Oh God, she might kick him again. Or her. She tutted and rose, chiding the tall chestnut mare and leading her to where she could munch on some carrot leaves, out of harm's way. Then she went back to the boy lying clutched around his pain on the red-brick path. She bit her lip and patted his head softly. He had curly light brown hair.

'That's called a stringhalt,' she said, not knowing what else to say.

Yeah, great. It's a very good book. Not my favourite of his, but still bleeding good.

And, by the way, I have succumbed to Twitter. Find me there as bluepootle. I blame the closure of Whispers of Wickedness (sob). I had to find a new place to be a blue pootle, you see.

Saturday, 16 May 2009

Wanderer returns

I have been much absent lately, due mainly to two things, but mostly to my finishing my novel and considering where to try and place it. One editor has seen it, and considers it too short to market successfully. I've already expanded it a little (just a few thousand words), but now I feel a little stuck. Those few thousand words I am confident have improved the manuscript, but they really do feel like the end. It's still a pretty short piece, at just 50,000 words, give or take, but it feels done. Anything more, other than window-dressing (adding, as suggested, a certain amount of local colour to certain scenes), I can't see being able to add without having to create a completely different book.

What I'm interested in, is I know lots of authors out there have lots of finished novels that don't see publication. If you're one of these authors, with a publishing deal and a moderate amount of success, how do you view those past novels? Do you feel any of them are sitting there waiting to be picked up and dusted down (see David Mitchell's Black Swan Green as a for instance), or have you moved on; are they old news? (Roger Morris sounds like he has hundreds of completed manuscripts just hanging around intimidating the elderly neighbours).

Oh, I've also spent the past five months or so working on this, which has just gone live. Nice to finally have something out in front of the crowd at least.

Wednesday, 6 May 2009

Birthday books

This past Bank Holiday I entered the realms of the thirty-somethings (waves to Aliya and Matt Curran). Along with a nice novel rejection, I also got a couple of books. Two more dissimilar tomes it would be hard to find. The first, which I am reading at home, and only on sunny days, is Flora Thompson's Lark Rise to Candleford trilogy, filled to the brim, Veggiebox fans, with jams, curly kale, potatoes, meat puddings, pig-socks, roly-poly's, stews, honey, berries and other rural delights; the second book was Russell Hoban's The Bat Tattoo, which is resolutely urban and so far--I'm at the halfway mark--is firecracking with brilliance, but is a bit scanty on the food front. There's a fair amount of alcohol though: Jack Daniels, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir. For anyone that hasn't read him, Hoban's post-millennial work puts me in mind of Jonathan Carroll, only without the talking dogs.

Thursday, 30 April 2009

Veggie Books: On Chesil Beach

They could see the beginnings of a footpath, dropping by muddy steps, a way lined by weeds of extravagant size - giant rhubarb and cabbages they looked like, with swollen stalks more than six feet tall, bending under the weight of the dark, thick-veined leaves. The garden vegetation rose up, sensuous and tropical in its profusion, an effect heightened by the grey, soft light and a delicate mist drifting in from the sea, whose steady motion of advance and withdrawal made sounds of gentle thunder, then sudden hissing against the pebbles.

Ian McEwan - a writer who knows how to use a comma.

I read On Chesil Beach on holiday, along with The Child in Time, and was captivated by them. Admittedly, they had an easy ride. I'd just finished Victoria Hislop's The Island (thinking it would be perfect reading material for Crete) and found the writing horrible, the characters flat and the plot mechanical. So going on to McEwan was a huge relief.

I wasn't without reservation, however. Other books I've read by him all had similar endings, where the beautiful writing gave way to a sudden rush of sexual violence that made me feel a bit soiled. I was certain On Chesil Beach would end with blood and death and general nastiness on the marital bed. But it didn't. It had the perfect ending. Phew.

Cabbage and rhubarb and a sowing of great commas - hurrah!

Friday, 24 April 2009

Turning Japanese

From the day-job, mainly to point out how HUGE m-novels are in Japan, Tokyo Real has sold over 5m copies, leading to 3m paperback sales. I kid you not: