Tag: backstage

14Aug

Interview & Review

There’s an interview with me over at Fantasy Faction, in which I rant about all sorts of genre and writing-related things, from the New Weird to writing about minorities:

Let’s put it this way: a mid-40s, straight white male with an average job and income, who does normal things, is not particularly interesting to write about.

Writing is about challenging yourself, about exploring people and places that fascinate you. Otherwise it’s just so dull. Another chosen-one fisher boy becomes king? Boring.

So I choose people who are going to be interesting to write about: it just so happens that minorities lead fascinating and often challenging lives.

Thanks to Leo for the great questions. It’s particularly nice writing answers as I come to the end of the series, since it gives me a nice opportunity to look back with a little more clarity, and then start drawing the line under it.

Also, that Locus review from a week or so ago has now made it online, so you can read that here.

3Aug

Good Author Blogs

As ever, interesting things were mooted on Twitter last night.

My favourite author blogs tend to be ones that rarely talk about the author’s books. I find ones that do the opposite really tedious.less than a minute ago via Twitter for iPhone Favorite Retweet Reply

The above, from James Long, caught my eye and sparked a few nice thoughts. I totally agree with what he said after that, too, which basically stressed the point that he’s far more interested in what authors think. I don’t see the point of telling people how many words you’ve written (unless you’re George RR Martin and you can see villagers gathering with pitchforks outside your window).

Updating on your daily word count isn’t going to interest many people; neither is continually publicising your works. Sure, it’s ultimately a tool to sell books and folks will be keen on finding out a little of what’s going on with your novels, but I’m not so sure that constantly banging on about yourself these days is going to interest readers in the long run. With all the competition for attention from new writers discovering the benefits of being online (and it’s far tougher these days), I think it’s personality that makes the difference. It’s a tough balance.

Rather than waffle more about the art of author blogs (generally, it’s not that difficult these days: be varied, be interesting, be regular, don’t have dodgy web design), I’d point out a few very distinct examples of author blogs that I enjoy reading.

1. Chuck Wendig – always hilarious, consistent (even in the randomness), and all on a superbly designed site. Whenever there’s an update from him, you can be sure it’s going to entertain. He gives plenty of advice, too, and – most importantly – doesn’t take himself too seriously. He has fun.

2. Jonathan Carroll – the original online writer’s notebook. Wonderful stuff, observations on human life, or a scrapbook of poems or links, it’s always going to be something to make you sit back and reflect. This is the true, arty end of blogging, and I really do make time when a post appears in my RSS feed.

3. Punkadiddle – Adam Roberts’ hotbed of reviews, mainly of genre stuff. Note: he’s a thorough reviewer, and gives some of the best quality and interesting write-ups you’ll see online. Not every new author could probably get away with tearing into certain books, but Adam doesn’t seem to mind the rough stuff.

Some other good blogs include: editor Cheryl Morgan (a fascinating range of topics); Sam Sykes (you’re always going to reflect, chuckle, or worry for his sanity); Jay Kristoff (relative newcomer to the scene, but a great blogger); and there area whole load more on my RSS feed, but these are the ones that particularly come to mind.

All of them do exactly what I, personally, like: they offer varied debate, show me things I don’t know, entertain, or help make me think differently about certain issues.

And isn’t that what writers are meant to do anyway?

10Jul

Steph Swainston’s Exit

There’s a fascinating article in the Independent regarding the exit from the genre of author Steph Swainston:

“I don’t have a problem with fandom,” she says. “But I don’t think fans realise the pressure they put on authors. The very vocal ones can change an author’s next book, even an author’s career, by what they say on the internet. And writers are expected to engage and respond.” She pauses. “The internet is poison to authors.”

Swainston is also unhappy with the “book a year” ethos of modern publishing: “Publishers seem to want to compete with faster forms of media, but the fast turnover leads to poorer books, and publishers shoot themselves in the foot. And it’s as if authors have to be celebrities these days. It’s expected that authors do loads of self-publicity – Facebook, Twitter, blogs, forum discussions – but it’s an author’s job to write a book, not do the marketing. Just like celebrities don’t make good authors, authors don’t really make good celebrities.”

The saddest thing to this has been seeing negative reactions on Twitter, which has made me want to say a little on the subject.

Authors are all different people.

I’ll say it again, everyone is different. Authors cope and react in different ways to fandom and the Internet. You need to be wired in the right way to cope with it (my trick: I take the writing seriously but not the Internet).

We all know there’s no longer just the writing. There are interviews and blogs and all the paraphernalia that comes with writing – because publishers encourage it; it all helped to sell books, and I do think that a couple of years ago there was a lot of merit in jumping in to build an online profile.

Not now. The Internet is saturated with all levels of writers, self-published up to writers-to-be, through to small press to large press. Saturated. For any new author to get heard out there these days is next to impossible, certainly to be effective within a couple of years. But of course authors have to because it’s included in some marketing brief somewhere as a good thing (it’s not a bad thing, it’s just hardly effective these days).

Steph’s also right to assert it’s tricky to hit a book a year (especially if you’ve a full time job), though I know that Gollancz are the type of people who seem happy to wait a while to get a good book. The year deadline is not a strict rule, but it’s useful to hit a book a year because the industry likes that regularity.

Steph highlights another problem with writing: you’re often on your own to cope with it all, and the nature of the whole business online – attention, microscopic picking over your work etc – seems to magnify both the importance and the solitude. It can quite easily fuck writers over and I’m surprised that there aren’t more suffering out there.

I suppose in teaching – Steph’s chosen exit route – you have others around you, which really does help protect one’s mind. That’s probably why authors get together and have a good moan at convention; certainly Twitter has helped put me in touch with other writers, so that’s useful to shoot the breeze sometimes.

So I can fully understand her decision to do things in her own time. Churning out shit is easy. Being happy with what you’ve done in a year and letting that get out into the public sphere is not always that easy. Some writers are wired to work in a fast-paced environment; others are wired to take their time. Neither one is better.

I don’t think the Internet is poison, but I do think it is a drug. Some authors are addicted, some go cold turkey to cope, some get withdrawal symptoms, and none of it is particularly constructive to one’s sanity.

14Apr

The Book Fair


(Firstly, if the formatting of the post looks a bit odd – especially the comments bit – that’s because I’ve been changing the site’s hosts and haven’t quite made the appropriate sacrifices to the host gods.)

On Wednesday I attended the London Book Fair. It was my first time at the event, and my first thoughts were “And they told me cash was tight in publishing?” Some of the booths must have cost a fortune – one or two were glistening, multilevel things, where everyone was schmoosing away, networking, making deals, or staring wistfully into the distance wishing they weren’t there.

While trying to find my way around, I bumped into Jared and Anne from Pornokitsch, who told me the vague whereabouts of (a) the Pan Macmillan stand so I could find my editor and (b) the Jim Murray Whisky Bible stand. I immediately headed towards the whisky stand first, of course, where I chatted with the designer of the Whisky Bible, which is one of the best resources available for those wishing to expand their horizons for all sorts of whiskies. It really is a fascinating and forward-thinking little operation. I then had a dram of the Amrut Fusion, an award-winning Indian whisky (very light and aromatic). This was before midday, so was perhaps an unwise decision on an empty stomach and before a panel. Then I shambled over to the Pan Macmillan stand where I met Julie and Catherine. I met quite a few others from Pan Mac, too, so it was nice to finally put faces to email addresses.

The main reason I was at LBF was because I was invited by the Society for Editors and Proofreaders to discuss the author and editor relationship, with my editor Julie, on a panel. This was in front of a good hundred people, a mixture of authors, editors and publishers of all shades. Each of the panellists spoke for five minutes or so – and I was actually quite nice to Julie when I did my bit – before taking questions from the audience. But it was all good fun, we got a few chuckles and were hopefully entertaining.

Afterwards I had drinks with Julie, Jared and Anne, and Den, in a nice little pub, where we talked geek/genre stuff and generally had a lovely time of it all. Jared was wearing his amazing interrobang cufflinks, and that’s really all you need to know.

8Apr

London Book Fair Panel – 13th April

Just a reminder that on Wednesday I’ll be at the London Book Fair on the following panel:

The Partnership between Author and Editor

The relationship between author and editor is not a straightforward one. Just how does an author work with both the in-house editor/publisher and freelance editor? This seminar looks at how all three work together to their mutual advantage and the panel is comprised of two trios: one trio in general/popular medicine and the other in fiction. The panel members are two authors (Mark Newton and Bridget McCall), two in-house editors (Julie Crisp and Dick Warner) and two freelance editors (Lawrence Osborn and Richenda Milton-Daws).

The seminar will be chaired by Christina Thomas, a member of the Society for Editors and Proofreaders (SfEP).

Date and Time: 13 Apr 2011
14:30-15:30
Location: Wellington Room, Earls Court 1

I’ve always wanted to appear “Live at Earl’s Court, London” though in my imagination it was always with a Gibson Les Paul (40 seconds in – that’s what I’m talking about, people – there goes the evening: watching Led Zep clips on Youtube). Anyway, yes, I will be there with Julie Crisp, my editor at Pan Macmillan. She’s not keen on public speaking, so do come along to heckle us both.

5Apr

Conversation, Agent Lunch, Notes

Firstly, there is a very interesting conversation going on between Gav and Sarah (from Bookworm Blues) regarding City of Ruin and ‘issues’.

[An] Author’s only obligation is to tell a story that works on it’s own terms. Now that could be something as something as simple as sticking to the expectations of a ‘sword & sorcery’ or throwing in a mix that will make a reader wonder what will happen next, which is exactly what happened to me when Newton kicked down the house of cards he had created in the first half. But there are different ways of dealing with politics and socially inclusion and he does stand out for his willingness to put these issues front and centre. And in some ways it’s easier to do in fantasy where the conventional is whatever you have made it. The trouble is that most authors don’t take advantage of the power they have in their own books.

I guess the the evangelising isn’t distracting but it might put some people off – but then again those readers aren’t likely to read a story about a gay albino anyway. What has surprised and pleased me a lot is the positive reactions he’s been getting from readers and their acceptance of the circumstances in the characters.

Read the rest. All authors love attention and their bellies being rubbed, but it is particularly nice when books are able to create such a debate.

Had lunch with my agent, John Jarrold, in Lincoln yesterday, where we celebrated a batch of royalties. (An interesting aside – ebooks are a tiny percentage of my sales thus far, so the revolution hasn’t quite made it to Blighty yet.) These are always civilised affairs, but with notably much less alcohol these days. Once I got so drunk with him I pretty much passed out at the table.  When I was young and unpublished, lunch meetings were more about being young and bedazzled with the fact that I had an agent and that I wrote books and that it was rather cool. I was very much aware how these lunches have, the more books I write, become more industry focussed – a sign of maturity or paranoia or both. Now it’s more a case of interpreting royalties, discussing projects in more detail, state-of-the-industry gossip etc. Though it wasn’t without the odd whisky story, too: John worked as an editor on – and was featured in – Iain Banks’ whisky book, so there was a tale or two to be shared. (I can’t believe how much Banks spent on bottles of whisky!)

Finally, there will potentially be a disruption to blog service in the next week or so as I change web hosting. It’s in the lap of the tech gods (I’m pretty crap when it comes to such things) but it might mean the blog goes offline at some point and/or a few comments are eaten up in the system, or not. Hopefully more on that soon.

2Feb

SFX Weekender Schedule

Here is the schedule for the Weekender, and I’ll be on this panel:

Friday 4.00pm When Fans Go Bad
James Moran, Paul Cornell, Mark Charan Newton, Kevin J Anderson discover the pros and cons of having an active and vocal fanbase.

On Saturday 1.15pm, I’ll be signing in the Forbidden Planet area, Team Tor authors Gary Gibson, Peter F. Hamilton, Paul Cornell, China Miéville and Adrian Tchaikovsky.

The rest of the time, I will probably be in the bar area nattering away. Do come and say hello, as it’s always nice to meet new people at these things. I might even be checking Twitter (if I can get reception – last time was pretty ropey) if you wanted to arrange to meet. I’m much less snarky in real life.

26Jan

The Weekender


It’s coming up to that time of year again. Yes, it’s (possibly) my favourite event in the con circuit: the SFX Weekender, which will be held in Camber Sands. I will be there, of course. Why? Well, my write-up from last year might explain:

When first thing in the morning you see China Miéville cooking eggs for Peter Hamilton, you know it’s not going to be normal weekend. I realise that sentence implies something earthy happened the night before, and given China’s remarkable ability to deploy the opening riff of ‘Let’s Get It On’ several times over the weekend, who could blame me for such an interpretation.

In addition to the above, myself, Adrian Tchaikovsky and Julie, Chloe and Amy from Pan Macmillan, were all sharing a bucolic, charming cottage, which was a (hefty) stone’s throw from the beach. There were wooden floorboards, comfy sofas, a huge kitchen, and everything had that retro-chic touch that makes homeware addicts froth.

I feel I should point out that the Gollancz authors were herded into chalets at Pontins (note the review titles “Hell on earth” and “never ever again”). Clearly, the gods did not favour them, and some would blame Simon Spanton for renting such dire accommodation. (If a Gollancz author is reading this, I’d email him with more ostentatious demands in future.)

Let’s be clear: this event rocks. It’s different. It’s not poncy, there’s no pretence; this event possesses the solid spirit of the cons of yesteryear. Good debates, good camaraderie, fans mixing with authors, and dodgy hotdogs. And I’ll be cottaging with the rest of the Tor UK crew. Make sure you get your ticket for a weekend of fun on the south coast. Here’s the guest list, so you can see what you’re missing.

There will be whisky.

5Jan

Modern Pulp Fiction

A brief warning: this post may include nostalgia. When we talk of the pulps, in SF and Fantasy circles, we often think of the classic magazines of the 30s and 40s – such as Amazing Stories – or perhaps more later the pulp paperbacks (check out this cover selection on io9 – how cool are these?). Some of those old novels even became classics. They might later receive the Gollancz Masterworks seal of approval, which I’m sure would have surprised the author (should he or she still be alive). But we rarely think of modern books as pulp fiction, let alone even consider that the modern pulps could become classics in the future.

And what the hell am I even talking about when I say ‘modern’ pulp fiction?

Well, about six years ago I was an editor at the Black Flame imprint. Black Flame put out titles based on franchises with New Line Cinema and 2000 AD, which included Jason X, A Nightmare on Elm Street, Friday the 13th, Final Destination, Judge Dredd, Durham Red, Nikolai Dante, Sláine and more. We also published the novelisation to Snakes on a Plane, believe it or not – even at the time I wondered how the hell we’d turn that script into a book, but Christa Faust – the author – did a fantastic job in putting meat on the bones. (Check out Wikipedia for a decent list of titles of what was covered at Black Flame.) It was quite the list – and it was all consciously pulp, too. We used the word internally, and we would go out into the big wide world declaring that we were not franchise fiction, but pulp fiction.

These days, pulp fiction tends to be sneered at rather heavily, but it was unashamedly entertaining stuff and, as a 23-year-old editor, it was a huge amount of fun to work with.The franchises were bat-shit-crazy, in a good way. The authors, who were great guys and girls, all passionate about pulp fiction and horror cinema, included James Swallow, Pat Cadigan, Natasha Rhodes, Christa Faust, David Bishop, Steven Savile, Jeffrey Thomas, Tim Waggoner, Nancy A. Collins, Rebecca Levene (and loads more). Most of them are still writing various projects today, but they were solid professionals who had no problem with working in other franchises.

For some, perhaps, it was a good way to sharpen their writer’s senses. The books were written quickly, to a decent standard and to deadline. One or two might have been a little rough around the edges, but that was the nature of the beast in getting lots of books out into stores very quickly. As for the content, pulp fiction was all about good plotting, first and foremost. The stories had to have a kick to them, and be as exciting as their intellectual property required. The way the submissions process worked was that we’d get an initial pitch and, if we liked that, then we’d ask the author for a chapter breakdown, which would give us a great idea of the story flow. This would then have to be approved by the various franchises (New Line or 2000 AD) to see if what was written would fit in with their intellectual properties. Only then could the writing begin.

But what I found interesting was comparing these books to the modern SF genre. They were as good – in some cases even better – than the average SF and Fantasy paperback. They were as entertaining, if not more so. So why, even when we gave these books the moniker ‘pulp fiction’ (or later ‘cult fiction’) did a lot of people not give them the time of day? Maybe it came down to the fact that it was tie-in fiction, and the genre loves being snobby to tie-in fiction, which is ironic considering the amount of snobbery literary fiction gives our genre. (As an aside, check out this chat with Dan Abnett I wrote on Jeff VanderMeer’s blog a while back.)

Anyway, Black Flame eventually shut its doors. The books never sold well enough at the time, and we moved on to setting up Solaris by that point. But I still maintain there was nothing in genre literature quite as much fun as those books and, if genre books were just good fun, unabashed entertainment, I wonder if the authors would be proud to say they wrote pulp fiction? It’s amazing how that word comes loaded with both prestige and shame.

2Jan

Mellowing & Industry Observations

Here’s what I was saying a year ago and, looking at that post again, I can honestly say I’ve mellowed a lot. I’ve spent far too much time following debate, which is something I hope not to do in 2011. But I think the sheer quantity of opinion kind of numbs a writer in a mellowing way: don’t get me wrong, I truly appreciate any review posted anywhere, but I’m marginally desensitised at the edges: bad reviews don’t quite hurt as much, as a consequence. Everything becomes a learning experience.

So anyway: here are some observations on the industry after another year.

1. The blogosphere ain’t what it used to be. Blogs have come and gone, and actually a lot have appeared in the last couple of years. The net result, combined with Twitter (which absorbs debate and attention) means that conversation is now phenomenally diluted; niches have sprung up within our genre niche. I’d consider print review venues (other than, say, SFX or the Guardian) to be absolutely ineffective in generating debate or playing much of a role in the genre, but the debate online is increasingly watered-down in terms of impact. It ain’t what it used to be. The older blogs still have the bit audience: Pat’s Fantasy Hotlist, A Dribble of Ink, Wertzone, or the Book Smugglers (these are the first four I typed – there are many more, but newer blogs will struggle to come close to getting their page views).

2. For this reason, I really pity new authors. It’s tough out there – it was a year ago – but now, with so much diluted debate, how the hell can you get yourself noticed? Having publishers tell authors to get out there is even more frustrating because…

3. Publishers dominate once again. Remember that time where people controlled debate according to the mildly anarchistic nature of the internet? Not now. The big publishers have created the mega-sites, and have invited bloggers to write guests posts. It’s miraculous – regular, interesting content, around which they can flog their books (and they’re a business – that’s what we expect). Bloggers mention they write guest posts, and send traffic to the mega-sites. Traffic flows one way. What’s more, the ethics of reviewer/blogger neutrality has been raised in discussion a few times. The saddest thing about all of this is that money (resources to set up these sites) now buys attention once again; for a short while, that wasn’t the case.

4. Ebooks turn out not to be the most evil thing in the world, but still no one knows how much to charge for them. Some idiots people believe they should be free. Many publishers charge hardcover prices – or simply don’t release a novel in ebook until the paperback is out. I can’t believe this side of the industry has not yet got its shit together. Sort it, people.

5. Tax bills suck. They really, really suck. I have no problem in paying taxes – I feel rather good, in fact, that in a country like the UK we can give our taxes fund, for example, the NHS. But it doesn’t stop the fact that the bastard final bills crop up on you just after Christmas. You see a lot of what you earn, as a writer, being taxed.

6. Writing gets easier. The more novels you write, the more you learn about their craft and construction; but no matter how many you publish, you realise that few people will get the things you intended – which is, I suspect, the way of things, and also a little bit diva-like on my part.

7. Sometimes spending hours on a blog post is pointless when you can just post (exclusive) cover art to generate debate and hits.

8. It surprises me just how much readers can hate a book (or an author); moreover, it amuses me when they can’t believe that other people liked it.

9. Sometimes people don’t want authors to talk about the real world. I forget, quite often, that authors are often routes of escape for people, and that they might not always appreciate rants of a political nature.

10. Tip for new bloggers: people love lists.