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.