Now Playing: Grieg
I've added an excerpt from HOS to the main site: go here. I've also made a few minor updates to the site; more to follow over the next week or so.
The cover of House of Suns:
Contrary to what I posted a few months ago, there's been no change in the look of the covers. Orion did play around with some new ideas, but the feedback from booksellers was such that they decided to keep the existing designs.
I will post an excerpt or two on the main website in a few days.
Interzone's Andy Cox kindly offered to host "The Sledge-maker's daughter" on the TTA website. You can read it here:
Above all else, if you like the story, I would strongly recommend a subscription to Interzone.
I got the news that THE PREFECT has been shortlisted for the BSFA award, while my Interzone story from last year, "The Sledge-Maker's Daughter", is up for the short fiction category. Very pleased with this, needless to say - good luck to all involved. You can see the shortlists here:
I got home last night after an enjoyable night out with friends to learn about the sad death of Heath Ledger, one of my favorite young actors. If you pinned me down, I'd probably say that my top film of the last ten years is "A Knight's Tale", that gloriously anachronistic re-take on jousting and all things Medieval. I know some people who dislike it, but it's a film my wife and I have watched with great pleasure many times over - it's up there with Fargo and The Big Lebowski in terms of the number of times we've sat through it, without ever feeling we'd seen it once too many. It's also, of course, a film with lots of quotable lines to bore people with. It was the first film I saw the excellent Paul Bettany in, and - of course - one of Ledger's earliest big films. Somehow I don't think we're ever going to watch it with quite the same sense of unalloyed pleasure.
In the comments for the previous post, "loon" asked me a few questions about writing which I felt would be best served by an entry in its own right, so here goes.
Loon asked if I outlined. It depends, really. I've written novels with only a vague sense of where I'm going, and I've also written novels based on reasonably detailed notes. THE PREFECT, because it was a twisty sort of book with an underlying procedural theme, seemed to demand outlining on at least a chapter by chapter basis, so that's how I did it. I opened a word file, and made some sketchy notes as to what needed to happen in each chapter - although those chapters were a working convention, more like internal markers, bearing only a vague relationship to the chapters in the final book. HOUSE OF SUNS was always going to be a much looser book, so I did nothing like the same degree of outlining. I did, though, start a notebook in which I explored plot ideas and backstory, and kept that notebook with me wherever I travelled. Much of the book was hatched on the train between Cardiff and Paddington.
My approach to short fiction - by which I mean anything that ain't a novel, up to an including novellas that would easily have qualified as novels forty or fifty years ago - depends on the piece and my mood as I go into it. Generally, I don't feel the need to make outlines or notes when I begin. If I don't have at least an intuitive sense of where I want the story to head, and importantly end, I won't make a start on it. Often, it's seeing that final scene in your head that gives you the mental green light.
It's a rare story indeed that doesn't give me some problems part way through the execution. A detail that I've glossed over in my head turns out to be crucial and problematic, and I can't see my way around it. That's when I get out a sheet of blank A4 paper and start brainstorming my way around the problem. I'll block out the story on a scene by scene basis, with rectangles of text summarising the action in each scene. Typically, I'll know what needs to go in the final box - that's the ending, which - in theory at least - I should already have nailed down, in my head if not on screen. But the nature of the problem usually means there's a box or two which I can't fill. It'll often be the penultimate scene, or pair of scenes, that cause difficulties.
What I find, though, is that the very act of diagramming the problem in paper goes some way to freeing up the mind and pointing to a resolution. If I don't see it immediately, or at least a hint as to where I need to go, I'll block in a number of alternative approaches, running in columns down the page. At that point, there may be one resolution that feels more emotionally satisfying, or in some way more elegant, than the contenders. Or it may be that all possibilities look equally attractive (or unattractive). Really the only thing to do in such a situation is go with your gut instincts and take one approach. In the act of writing, you may feel that one of the other pathways is to be preferred - or you may see a combination of options you didn't notice before. Whatever happens, you've got a story. It may not be the best story in the world, it may not even be the best story you're capable of writing on that day, but it's a starting point for improvement, which is more than can be said for a series of unfinished fragments.
Loon asked what happens when I realise that some technical detail - say, a neat innovation that I can't resist inserting into the story - invalidates some earlier decision taken in the writing. Well, that's what rewriting is for. It may be that the story can't accommodate the new innovation - it breaks the basic premise. In that case, you shelve the cool idea for another story - maybe it merits one entirely to itself. More often than not, though, the story can be made to function with some deft reworking. Back when I started breaking into the SF magazine market, the way you did this was - horror of horrors - to retype the entire story. (OK, I was a late convert to word processing. I was still usign a manual typewriter well into the nineties). These days, you save a draft to the hard drive and go and make the necessary changes to the working version of the story - dead easy.
As may be evident from the above, I'm an undisciplined and unsystematic writer - I veer from one approach to the next depending on my mood and - just as crucially - whatever it was I did last time. I make great use of scrap paper, post-it notes, and Word documents containing cryptic notes and story ideas. You don't need anything hi-tech, though. One of my favorite writing accessories is an office whiteboard and some coloured markers - great for scrawling mental memos to myself. I also make great use of Word's ability to change font colour. In the middle of a draft, I'll typically select one colour to indicate raw or problematic text, another to indicate text that's been through at least one polish or rewrite, and another to indicate text that I'm happy with and don't envisage changing. The theory is that as the revision work proceeds, you see less and less of the raw colour and more and more of the final one. I'll also use various colour permutations to keep track of viewpoint, narrative track, etc - anything goes, basically.
Back after a month - where does the time go? I hope everyone had a good end to the year and a good start to the new one - I know I did. Final edits on HOUSE OF SUNS are now complete, and the book should enter production any day now. Again, I'll post an extract (probably back on the main website, rather than the blog) when I get a chance.
Precious little to report, in other respects. I'm working on a new novella, thinking hard about the next book, and planning a couple of trips. Reading: Soul Circus, George P Pelecanos - hardboiled DC crime. Just finished: Spitfire, Jonathan Glancey - nonfiction about the eponymous aircraft. Listening: the new Radiohead album, which I bought from a record shop using money.
These song-title related topics are getting a bit desperate, aren't they? Never mind, just dropping by to say that I've seen a rough version of the House of Suns cover artwork and it's very good. It would be naughty of me to post it here so I won't, but I don't imagine it will be very long before there's a finalised version I can use. Just picture a night-lit ocean with a massive Chris Moore spaceship hovering over the waves, though, and you'll be half way there.
I'm dropping off the internet for a couple of weeks, however, so I won't be checking in again until the New Year. All the best and here's to a good 2008 for everyone, wherever you may be.
I just got news of another sale, which is not the worst way to start a wednesday. A new short story of mine, "Soiree" (I'd add the accent over the "e" if I knew how to) will appear next year in an anthology being edited by Ian Whates to commemorate fifty years of the British Science Fiction Association. It's a resolutely science fictional tale about what happens when a slow starship is overtaken on its way to a distant solar system - a ripe theme going all the way back to AE Van Vogt's Far Centaurus.
It's been a pretty good year for short fiction for me - the tally so far is "The Six Directions of Space", "The Manastodon Broadcasts", "The Fixation", "The Receivers" and "Soiree", none of which will appear before 2008. I am now working on another novella length piece for Jonathan Strahan's Godlike Machines, but I won't finish this before the New Year.
I'd been fairly prolific in the late nineties, but my short fiction output had tailed off once I began to get into novel writing, and specifically writing novels to contract. By the time I was on my third or fourth novel I was lucky to find time to write one story a year. Clawing back the space to do more short fiction was one of the motivating factors that led to me giving up my day job, so I'm glad it seems to be working. Of course, we are also in a time when the anthology market is booming, which also helps.
Writing novels, as I've said on more than one occasion, can feel like painting the Forth Bridge, an arduous task calling for a broad brush and a lot of stamina. Writing short fiction is more like putting a ship in a bottle. That's how it feels to me, anyway - and with several commissions due in 2008, I hope it will turn out to be another productive year.
Reading: just finished A Dream of Wessex, by Christopher Priest (very good, eerily prophetic in many details) and an interesting article by Malcolm Gladwell in the November 12th New Yorker about criminal profiling methods and why they may be almost entirely valueless. Listening: Blood on the Tracks, Dylan.
I just got back from a pleasant weekend in Leuven, Belgium, attending Beneluxcon. It was a good convention, well organised by Guido Eekhout and colleagues, and a welcome chance to catch up with friends. We liked Leuven - the old quarter was something very special, and my wife and I found a great Moroccan restaurant on our first night in town.
Returning home (three and a half hours door to door, with two changes of train - not bad for a convention taking place in another country) I did my usual round of web-surfing, and was intrigued to see a mention on Paul McAuley's blog that there's to be a BBC documentary on Mark Everett, the man behind the band Eels. It transpires in turn that Everett is the son of Hugh Everett III, the man behind the Many Worlds theory of quantum physics. Astonishing stuff, not only because I'm a fully paid up convert to the Many Worlds theory, but that Eels are one of my very favorite acts. Yet (like Paul) I'd never made the connection - even though, with hindsight, there's at least one whopping clue in the sleeve of one of the CDs. Strangely enough, I connected with the Eels around the time that I was finishing Redemption Ark, a large part of which was inspired by the deeper implications of Many Worlds theory (time travel, etc) explored by David Deutsch in his book The Fabric of Reality.
I'd be here until wednesday if I started listing my favorite Eels tracks, so I won't even start. Really, they're all great.
The documentary is on BBC Four tonight (Monday 26th November) at 9.00 pm. I'll get someone to tape it for me as I don't have access to digital here in Holland.
One thing I've learned in this business is never assume you'll be doing anything from one week to the next. Instead of diving into a new story, I've been back working on HoS again. The chance arose to do a bound proof (something we've either not done, or done so late in the production process that it's of debatable value) from the existing manuscript. While happy with the idea of getting proofs out earlier than usual, I felt that - with the benefit of a few days away from it - there were a few things I'd like to take care of before the book was read by more than a handful of people. Then my wife read the submitted version and raised a few points of her own ... and here I am, five days later, with a different draft of the book about to go back to the publisher to form the proof. There is still some work to do over the weekend, but this draft comes in at about 180,000 words- about 22,000 words below the earlier version. That's still a long book by any measure, but it's short by my standards.
I've also been trying to catch up on my correspondence, but since I've been working backwards through my inbox rather than forwards, if you sent me an email more than three or four weeks ago, I still won't have caught up with you. Rest assured I'll do my best to catch up next week - hopefully before I dash off to Leuven for the next Beneluxcon.
In the meantime, time to mention that my CD of the week is Roisin Murphy's rather fantastic Overpowered, and that the book I'm reading now is Jonathan Lethem's Motherless Brooklyn.