My FantasyCon 2018 schedule

I’m finally getting around to thinking about my FantasyCon plans. Mostly, those plans involve chatting, but I will have some fixed points in amongst the socialising:

Friday 5pm – PS Publishing launch – My hybrid non-fiction/fiction book about the 1915 film LES VAMPIRES will be available for the first time, alongside other Electric Dreamhouse Press titles by Tim Lucas and John Connolly, AND new PS Publishing books by Ramsey Campbell, Tim Lebbon, Paul Kane, Stephen Volk, Ian Whates and Thana Niveau. Wow!

Saturday 9pm – reading slot – alongside the very excellent Gary Budden and Priya Sharma. I’m so looking forward to this session! (I have no idea what I’ll be reading, yet – maybe an oldie as I’ve been dusting off stories for next year’s story collection, ‘And the House Lights Dim’.)

Sunday 11am ‘Reprinting short fiction’ panel – with Ian Whates, Peter Mark May, Marguerite Kenner and Nina Allan.

But more than anything, I’m looking forward to catching up with everyone. I’ll be around all weekend – a rarity for me – so there should be lots of opportunities to hang out. See you all there!

Taking stock

Now feels like as good a time as any to take stock.

I’ve been writing stories and novels since 2011. Before that point, I liked the idea of writing but put down barely any words – the classic error of waiting for ‘inspiration’. I was an idiot back then.

So now it’s seven years later. I guess that’s quite a long time – my wife and I had two kids during that time. We moved house twice and moved town once. I got a promotion, then quit my editorial day job to go freelance. But on the other hand, it’s not that long. I’m trying to focus on achievements here, so let’s say it isn’t that long at all.

I’ve stuck with writing. I didn’t know I was a sticker, but it turns out I am. Happily, it turns out that writing is what I love doing. (And editing too; it would be tough to get very far with all this if editing was entirely a chore.) Another thing in my favour is that I’ve never seen rejection particularly as a critique. My first aim when I started writing was to submit a story to Interzone—not to get published, you understand, only to have put in enough work to allow me to send the story without feeling ashamed of myself. Receiving that first rejection slip was a triumphant moment: here I am, doing this whole writer thing!

Anyway. Seven years. In that time I have written:

  • six novels
  • two novellas
  • thirty-seven short stories
  • one non-fiction book

This all adds up to around 840,000 words—i.e. around 120,000 words per year (plus editing).

Of the novels, one has been published and two are due to be published within the next year. The two first novels were honestly never intended for publication (they were NaNoWriMo-style exercises when I was learning how to go about the whole business) and the last-but-one novel has been shelved, perhaps never to be published. Both novellas have been published. Twenty-nine of the short stories have been published or have been bought, and three of the remaining eight stories will appear in my first short story collection next year. The non-fiction book will be published within the next few weeks.

That’s good, I think. I’m very bad at telling myself that. It’s good.

But 2018 has been really good. Like most people, I tend to move goalposts, so that any ambition fulfilled becomes just the first step to the next thing. I’m writing this blog post so that I can appreciate that things are happening that I should stop and maybe marvel at.

So, 2018.

  • My story, ‘The Walls of Tithonium Chasma’, was selected for Best of British Science Fiction 2017. The story was first published in Shoreline of Infinity in March 2017, but I wrote a first version of the story four years before then. It was the first thing I wrote that I really loved – but magazine editors didn’t agree. I tinkered, resubmitted, tinkered, resubmitted. I’m delighted that it’s ended up doing well.
  • Ellen Datlow selected my story, ‘Eqalussuaq’, for The Best Horror of the Year Volume Ten. I was stunned when I received the email (pretty much literally: dizzy and bumping into things). This was another story that had had a rough ride. I wrote a version in late 2014, then reworked it entirely for a themed anthology, but then the Kickstarter didn’t work out… It was published in Not One of Us in October 2017, which is where Ellen Datlow spotted it. I look at the contents page of Best Horror Volume Ten and I see my name there, and it still doesn’t seem real.
  • I got an agent: Alexander Cochran at C+W. More than anything, getting representation was my big hope for this year. But it was my big hope for last year and the year before that. And now I have an agent, and d’you know what? He’s a really decent guy, and we went for lunch and it was terrific. I’m really excited that my future projects will be planned and plotted with Alexander. I think we’re going to be a good team.
  • Titan Books offered to publish my SF novel, SNAKESKINS. I’m thrilled. I honestly can’t imagine a better home for the book, and already it’s a pleasure working with editor Gary Budden and publicist Lydia Gittins.
  • Other things, too. My second Interzone acceptance. Three new stories published, with five others lined up. My first invitation to write a story for an anthology. Invitations to write articles for three non-fiction books.

Then there’s that warm feeling of having book publications lined up. Over the last month I’ve been checking onscreen proofs of three books: a monograph about the silent crime film LES VAMPIRES for Electric Dreamhouse Press; my first YA novel, MACHINERIES OF MERCY, for ChiZine; my first short story collection, AND THE HOUSE LIGHTS DIM, for Luna Press. And edits on SNAKESKINS, steady work on the next novel, and plans for the thing after that.

I’ve been working hard. I haven’t finished what I think of as my writing apprenticeship and I hope I never do, but I’m busier than ever. More importantly, I’m busy doing what I love doing.

I’m very bad at recognising where I’m at. I announce stuff when it needs announcing, but beyond that I struggle to know how to talk about it all. I don’t think I’m likely to get better at that any time soon…  but this blog post—self-indulgent as it is—is an attempt to face up to the fact that I’m very happy with everything that’s happening. A lot has gone on, and yet it still feels like the start of something.

[Oh, that image at the top of this post? That’s a chart generated by my writing tracker spreadsheet. It shows the accumulating number of words of all my long projects since around March 2013. The steeper the slope, the more concentrated the work. The gaps represent phases of writing short stories or having children.]

Publication announcement: SNAKESKINS

So… here’s something I’ve been keeping under my hat for a while:

I’m very pleased to announce that my SF novel SNAKESKINS will be published by Titan Books in spring 2019. Huge thanks to Gary Budden at Titan for picking it up.

Also, a related development: I’m now represented by Alexander Cochran at C+W literary agency.

Here’s a blurb:

Caitlin Hext’s first shedding ceremony is imminent, but she’s far from prepared to produce a Snakeskin clone. When her Skin fails to turn to dust as expected, she must decide whether she wishes the newcomer alive or dead.

Worse still, it transpires that the Hext family may be of central importance to the survival of Charmers, a group of people with the inexplicable power to produce duplicates every seven years and, in the process, rejuvenate. In parallel with reporter Gerry Chafik and government aide Russell Handler, Caitlin must prevent the Great British Prosperity Party from establishing a corrupt new world order.

SNAKESKINS is an SF thriller examining the repercussions of rejuvenation and cloning on individuals’ sense of identity and on wider society, with the tone of classic John Wyndham stories and the multi-strand storytelling style of modern TV series such as Channel 4’s Humans.

The Best Horror of the Year Volume 10

My contributor’s copy of THE BEST HORROR OF THE YEAR VOLUME TEN just popped through the letterbox! Having a story included in it is a very big deal for me. I’m very grateful to Ellen Datlow for selecting my Greenland Shark story, ‘Eqalussuaq’, which was originally published in Not One of Us magazine.

You can buy BEST HORROR 10 now from Amazon in a variety of formats: paperback, ebook, audio CD and audio download.

Music for writers

Another post about music… The excellent writer and excellent person James Everington was kind enough to invite me to contribute an article to his ‘Music for Writers’ series on his website. I never turn down a chance to talk about music, and given that pretty much all of my current music listening is a background to writing or work, this theme plays to my interests. You can read the full article, and listen to selections, here.

(Note that Music to write to is distinct from Book soundtracks, which I create for each of my novellas and novels. See here for some of those.)

Musical milestones

I’m pretty sure that by now everybody’s seen the recent Facebook meme of showing the 10 albums that you find important, right? Now that I’ve finished my 10-album, 10-day list I thought I’d post it here for posterity. I’m afraid I wasn’t able to stick to the rule of omitting any explanation of my choices…

#1 Victor Borge – Phonetic punctuation / A Mozart opera
I’ve chosen this album to represent my parents’ record collection, and the fact that when I was a kid I was more likely to listen to comedy than music. But also, I still think it’s hysterically funny, and the album cover is still one of my all-time favourites, and also matches my writing/editing occupation. I have the LP version framed and ready to hang once I get my attic office in order.

#2 The Beatles – 1967–1970
It’d be disingenuous to pretend that this album wasn’t the keystone of my discovering music when I was a kid. I’d heard ‘Penny Lane’ via a compilation tape (chosen because I liked fire engines) and ‘Let It Be’ on a French campsite (as close to a musical epiphany as a seven-year-old can have). I listened to the ‘Blue Album’ endlessly while I was growing up; it’s part of me.

 

 

 

 

 

#3 Tortoise – TNT   /   Gastr Del Sol – Camoufleur
TNT by Tortoise was responsible for shifting my listening from rock to post-rock and experimental music. And that self-effacing album cover! Tortoise were an important band to me, partly because they had so many side projects that would lead me into other areas. In fact, two members of Tortoise were in the original lineup of Gastr Del Sol, though by the time of CAMOUFLEUR the lineup was David Grubbs and Jim O’Rourke (with contributions from Markus Popp of Oval). Jim O’Rourke would lead me into new areas – via his indie stuff and then into far stranger listening territory. Gastr Del Sol’s CAMOUFLEUR came a little later, but is probably my favourite post-rock album.

 #4 Nick Cave – And No More Shall We Part
I know that many people would argue for other Nick Cave albums being more immediate, more visceral, plain better than this, but I adore it unconditionally. It’s one of the most literate and darkly funny albums I can think of, and it inspired my early attempts to write short stories as much as, say, John Updike’s RABBIT series of books did.

#5 Herman Düne – Not On Top
For the longest time, I considered Herman Düne my favourite band. They were charming, witty and, unlike most of the music I listened to, they were alive and there were lots of opportunities to see them play live – which I did, perhaps five or six times in total. I listened to a lot of ‘anti-folk’ at the beginning of this century, though few of the performers still have the same resonance for me as Herman Düne, who have soundtracked some of the happiest moments of my life.

 

 

 

 

 

#6 The Modern Lovers  – The Modern Lovers   /   Jonathan Richman – Jonathan Goes Country
Around 2005 I listened to little other than Jonathan Richman’s vast back catalogue, from his snotty Velvet-Underground-ish origins to his latter-day embarrassing-dad persona – both equally loveable. THE MODERN LOVERS and JONATHAN GOES COUNTRY were on constant rotation when I was working alone for long stretches in California. The former is one of the great proto-punk albums, and a tantalising suggestion of a path that Richman would decide not to take; the latter is a goofy experiment that shouldn’t work, but succeeds through its wholehearted charm. It’s my favourite music to drive to.
(My favourite detail about the change in direction after the release of The Modern Lovers in 1976: David Robinson left the group ‘due to frustration with Richman’s quest for lower volume levels’.)

#7 Lonnie Donegan – Rock Island Line: The Singles Anthology 1955–1967
Lonnie Donegan’s early singles are some of the most thrilling songs I know of: catchy, funny, utterly wild. When I discovered this fantastic compilation set in 2006 I described it as follows in a blog post:
“I can’t get enough of Lonnie’s rasping, distorted, chuckling voice. I love that he addresses his songs to ‘the boys’. I love his rambling introductions to the simplest of songs. I love the way that his songs feel spontaneous, and that when the band cuts loose it doesn’t even sound like they’re playing musical instruments. They’re beating on the walls and stamping on the floor and Lonnie is wailing through the white noise…”

#8 Steve Reich – Music for 18 Musicians
This was a total revelation to me when I first heard it around fifteen years ago, and set me off listening to modern composition and minimalist pieces. I think it’s utterly perfect.

#9 Gavin Bryars – Jesus’ Blood Never Failed Me Yet
One of the most emotional musical experiences I’ve had was the American Contemporary Music Ensemble’s performance of ‘Jesus’ Blood Never Failed Me Yet’ at the All Tomorrow’s Parties festival curated by Jeff Mangum in 2012. Rose and I had recently decided to start a family, and for whatever reason the repeated words of Bryars’ piece struck me as advice from a parent to a child. By the end I was in pieces.

#10 Oren Ambarchi – Grapes from the Estate
If any artist sums up my current listening preferences, it’s Oren Ambarchi. (Jim O’Rourke’s experimental work would come close second.) These days I most often listen to music while working, so it’s almost all instrumental. Aside from being absurdly beautiful, GRAPES FROM THE ESTATE is the most wonderful background to achieving a trance-like mindset.

Tim Major – writer & editor

%d bloggers like this: