Tuesday, March 30, 2010


Monsters of the Victorian Age #1

Lecturing Monsters

In 1877 monsters were finally allowed to give public lectures. These talks often generated considerable controversy due to the fact that the electric system of amplification invented by Emile Berliner and his Detectives the previous year rendered subtext audible for the first time. People didn't like what they heard and turned away in droves. Even drovers turned away in droves. The question of whether monsters should have delivered these lectures behind closed doors, in universities and technical institutes, is purely academic.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010


Rough With the Smooth

I've always imagined the writing world as a sort of rainforest. That statement isn't an ironic allusion to the noble trees that die to keep publishers and writers in business. I mean that projects can suddenly collapse with an almighty crash, bringing down certain hopes and aspirations, ultimately to make room for new growth. Recently several proposed anthologies that had solicited my stories were unexpectedly cancelled; at the same time I was asked to contribute to a brace of new anthologies. Everything is in a state of flux in this industry, which can be frustrating if you like to make precise long-term plans, but at least fresh opportunities always seem to arise.

It's better to go with the flow, of course, if you can bring yourself to trust the currents. I don't think I'm mixing my metaphors here, as those currents might belong to the river that twists through this rainforest imagery. The upshot of all this is that I'm writing some stories I hadn't expected to be writing now and my schedule for the year has altered slightly. As I generally have the good sense not to reveal my schedule, none of this matters a jot to anyone else.

As well as writing solicited stories for specific projects, I also (of course) write stories because they are in my mind and won't leave me alone until I get them down on paper. A few days ago I woke from a deep sleep with the title 'Is My Wife on Mars?' on my tongue. My first inclination was to refuse to write a story to go along with that title, but inevitably I capitulated. I always do. Disobeying the Muse might be perilous. I'm simultaneously writing a Philip José Farmer tribute story and I wonder if they will end up cross-fertilising each other?

The photograph that accompanies this tree-themed blog entry was taken by Adele a few weeks ago, and in fact adorns her own blog, which also features some of her paintings...

Wednesday, March 17, 2010


Odyssey 2010

I have just registered for Odyssey 2010, also known as EasterCon, an SF convention that is taking place at Heathrow from April 2nd to 5th. I hardly ever attend literary conventions or meetings in the UK, so if you're attending this event you should get to meet me. What a dubious pleasure for you! Guests of Honour include Alastair Reynolds, Iain Banks, Liz Williams and Mike Carey.

Also in attendance (among many other worthies) will be Ian Watson, an author I regard as one of the finest ideas writers to have emerged from British SF in its entire history. I devoured Watson's books when I was a student and I'm still a huge fan of his work, so I'm especially keen to meet him. I can hardly overstate the influence his short stories have had on my own work, and indeed my novella The Crystal Cosmos was a direct tribute to him.

Now then, now then. My novel Twisthorn Bellow is due to be launched at Odyssey 2010 and I'll be trying to help the publisher (Ian Alexander Martin) flog copies, mostly by drawing attention to them rather than flicking a whip, though one never knows... I'm a terrible salesman but I certainly intend to do my best, without being too pushy or acting too much like a buffoon, if possible... Unless acting like a buffoon is what people want... Here's an official advert for my novel. I have been told that copies exist already, that they rolled off the press a few days ago. The superb cover was created by Steve Upham, who as everyone probably knows is not only an amazing illustrator but also an excellent publisher in his own right.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010



Every author wants reassurance. Even authors who have chosen to blaze a solitary path. I know this from experience. There are occasions when such an author wonders, "Will anyone else believe I'm doing it the right way?"

So it comes as a relief when one happens to chance on another author who has independently trodden a similar (but not identical) path. This has nothing to do with the discovery of writers who influence you after that discovery. In my own case, I'm not referring to such masters as Nabokov, Beckett, Calvino, Barthelme and Flann O'Brien, all of whom I consciously attempted (and failed) to mimic. I'm referring instead to writers who help to confirm that the difficult path one is already following is theoretically viable or at least interesting.

I mean authors like Nathanael West, who reassured me that it's possible to nest tales within tales within tales within tales within tales, and that the techniques of Voltaire may be applied to modern concerns; to Josef Nesvadba, who reassured me that intricate plots fit perfectly well into mimimal space provided the space is part of the plot; to Primo Levi, who reassured me that rigour and wistfulness are not incompatible; and to G.V. Desani, who reassured me, and continues to reassure me, that if nearly every sentence ends with an exclamation mark, harmony among endless movement can be established!

G.V. Desani is a forgotten sage of Literature. Born in Nairobi, Kenya in 1909 he travelled widely during his life and spent the Second World War in Britain. He went to India after the War and began work on his masterpiece, All About H. Hatterr. A novel impossible to categorise, Anthony Burgess defined it as the Indian Ulysses: an exuberant and yet formally planned romp through language, satire and comedy, as the main character (H. Hatterr in person) goes to consult seven Sages in seven different cities in seven separate but linked sections, coming away with a newly-won Generality that he must now utilise in an Adventure.

Desani is not only a violator but an utter disintegrator of most of the standard 'Rules for Writing Fiction'. One of the most absurd of these petty laws was recently outlined by Elmore Leonard as 'Keep your exclamation points under control. You are allowed no more than two or three per 100,000 words of prose.' Other stupid rules by other writers can be found here. In protest I wrote my own set, partly tongue in cheek, partly not, and those may be consulted here.

Meanwhile, things continue to progress slowly but inexorably in my writing world. First mention of my Tallest Stories book has now appeared on the relevant publisher's website... I have a new British Fantasy Society messageboard here... and I have just been asked to write a story for an anthology targeted at 'young adults'; I agreed to produce a piece for this because I've never written for that age group and it'll be a challenge; I don't even know if I can do it!

Wednesday, March 03, 2010


If it Ain't Tempus, Don't Fugit!

The final version of The Fanny Fables has been published at last! I couldn't stop adding to this miniature story cycle; new ideas just kept coming. The first version of the chapbook featured five tales; the second had six; this one has eight, a number I have absolutely no intention of increasing. Fanny is finished! As you can see, her adventures are being published together with Madonna Park and Plutonian Parodies under a single slipcase. The three chapbooks contain 17 tales and are collectively known as Tempus Fugit. I remember seeing these words written on a clock in the wooden hall of Cardiff's Old Coal Exchange and wondering if they were an example of obsolete Victorian cussing. I still wonder.

Having finished my Stringent Strange novel in extra fast time, I have lately been free to return to short stories, and I'm making the most of my time and energy in this regard. I have completed a tale for an anthology themed around 'Creativity in the Wilderness'; another for a proposed anti-Fascist anthology; and I'm currently working on a story about a man who steals the sky. When that one's done I'm going to launch into a Philip José Farmer tribute tale; then it will be time to add at least one piece each to my ongoing Albarracín, Happenstance and Chaud-Mellé cycles. After that I may even return to my abandoned Pilgrim's Regress novel and get it finished. We'll see.

This morning, prompted by a fellow named Brendan Connell, who happens to be a very talented writer, I created my own 10 Rules for Writing Fiction. They can be found here. Already I have been told off because of them...

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