Announcement: Sherlock Holmes – The Back-to-Front Murder

Holmes and Watson

Publication news! I’m happy to say that my Sherlock Holmes novel THE BACK-TO-FRONT MURDER will be published by Titan Books in August. In fact, it’s the first of two, with the second due out at the same time next year, both classic tales in the Conan Doyle style. Here’s the blurb for this first one:

May 1898. A new client arrives at Baker Street – Abigail Moone, a wealthy, independent writer of successful mystery stories under a male pseudonym. She presents an unusual problem. Abigail claims that she devised a man’s death that was reported in that morning’s newspaper: that is, she planned his murder as an event to be included in one of her mystery stories. Following real people and imagining how she might murder them and get away with it is how Abigail comes up with her plots, but this victim has actually died, apparently of the poison method she meticulously planned in her notebook. Someone is trying to frame Abigail for his death, but with the evidence stacking up against her, she turns to Holmes to prove her innocence.

I’ve had so much fun writing as Watson and attempting to channel Conan Doyle. Completing this novel has been one of the most straightforwardly happy writing experiences I’ve had (though the plot is anything but straightforward, of course), and I hope it shows.

My writing year 2020

It comes as something as a surprise to discover that I’ve written more this year than during any year to date. How I found time to put down 215,000 words, despite long weeks of being unable to write anything at all due to coronavirus-panic paralysis, self-doubt and the requirement of homeschooling two young children for six entire months, I really can’t explain. Still, that’s what happened, and I must have put in intense sessions during the weeks in which I did write, as this was also the year I spent most time at my desk: 290 hours in all.

This year, I wrote:

  • An as-yet-unannounced commissioned novel, 70,000 words
  • Shade of Stillthorpe – a 30,000-word novella, a mishmash of folk horror and Patricia Highsmith-esque ‘wrong man’ thriller
  • 70,000 words of a novel begun as a response to lockdown – it’s likely to be huge, with three separate strands in different genres and more than thirty characters
  • ‘The Cardboard Voice’ – horror short story, 5000 words
  • ‘The Marshalls of Mars’ – SF short story, 7600 words
  • ‘The Andraiad’ – horror SF short story, 7000 words

BSFA Tim MajorAnd this is what I published in 2020:

  • Hope Island – my horror novel about creepy children, parental fears and sound was published by Titan Books in June (unfortunately, at a point when bookshops were still closed), but which went down well with reviewers – you can read reviews and find out more here
  • ‘The Pea’ – fairytale horror story (850 words), Fudoki, Jan 2020
  • ‘Red Sky at Morning’ – horror short story set on a lighthouse (2900 words), Unsung Stories, May 2020
  • ‘Simulation’ – horror short story set on a plane (2300 words), Strange Days anthology (Midnight Street Press), May 2020
  • ‘Praying To Her Thumbs’ – horror short story (2700 words) STORGY, Jun 2020
  • ‘The Slow King’ – folk horror short story set on a folk horror film set (5000 words), The Fiends in the Furrows II anthology (Nosetouch Press), Aug 2020, then featured as an audio reading on Pseudopod podcast, Dec 2020
  • ‘Into the Wound’ – YA SF short story (3000 words), Voyage, Oct 2020
  • ‘Dear Will’ – ETA Hoffman-esque horror short story (3000 words), Vastarien Vol 3, Issue 2, Dec 2020
  • Also, two stories were reprinted in year’s-best collections: ‘O Cul-de-Sac!’ in The Best of British Fantasy 2019 and ‘Concerning the Deprivation of Sleep’ in Best of British Science Fiction 2019 (both NewCon Press)

Next year, the certainties are the publication of a short story in an anthology I’m really excited about, plus the first of two commissioned tie-in novels and a Martian murder mystery novella, Universal Language, which will be published by NewCon Press. In terms of writing, I’ll be plugging away at my enormous lockdown manuscript, which may yet turn out to be an actual novel, and I’ll be completing a much saner second commissioned novel.

Favourite albums of 2020

Drone / modern composition

Anna HauswolffSarah Davachi

 

 

 

After last year’s stunning album The Sacrificial Code by Kali Malone, it’s now becoming clear – and I realise how unlikely this may sound to some – that there’s something unexpectedly interesting going on in the realm of modern organ music. My two favourite albums of 2020 are performed almost exclusively on instrument. On All Thoughts Fly, Anna von Hausswolff abandons her gothic pop sensibilities and produces incredible textures using pipe organs that seem to rear above you like the monolith in 2001: A Space Odyssey. Cantus, Descant by Sarah Davachi is a less terrifying affair, but no less overwhelming. It features six different organs in the US and Europe from reed to pipe organ, and despite running at 80 minutes, doesn’t outstay its welcome even considering the accompanying live release Figures In Open Air, with its two central hour-long performances in Chicago and Berlin. Galya Bisengalieva of the London Contemporary Orchestra manages to fulfil the promise of her 2019 Eps while also being utterly surprising with Aralkum, an instrumental concept album apparently concerning the shrinking Aral Sea, and evoking her textures for Actress. There’s a similar tone on Oliver Coates’ performance of John Luther Adams’ Canticles of the Sky / Three High Places, the patient, accumulating layers on Harbors by Ellen Fullman and Theresa Wong, and in the outstanding analogue drones of Music for Cello and Humming by Judith Hamann, which also features Sarah Hennies.

In terms of less readily identifiable drones, Finnish techno prodigy Vladislav Delay comes up with the annual goods with Rakka, and also a wonderful, doomy dub collaboration with Sly & Robbie entitled 500 Push-Up. My final two favourite drone albums are Double Bind by Geneva Skeen, and the surprisingly organic Oehoe by Machinefabriek, featuring Anne Bakker on (wordless) vocals and violin.

Folk / primitive / field

Gwenifer RaymondLaura CannellGwenifer Raymond’s take on Fahey-esque primitive Americana is heightened by the knowledge that her melodies in Strange Lights Over Garth Mountain are inspired by the Welsh valleys and folklore. Laura Cannell continues a terrific run of form with the distinctly folk-horror collection The Earth With Her Crowns. Beholder by Julia Reidy offers dizzying, ringing guitar textures in which I can lose myself for hours, and similarly the more fragile improvisations on Welsh harp on Telyn Rawn by Rhodri Davies. Dirty Three drummer Jim White, along with Marisa Anderson, provides more immediately digestible melodies in The Quickening, though still as complex as his best work. Kate Carr proves herself to be one of the most interesting current field recordings artists with no less than three releases this year, the pick of which are the stunning Fabulations and The Thing Itself and Not the Myth.

Weird / psychedelic / hip hop

The TotemistOlan MonkThis year, all of my psychedelia needs unrelated to Sun Ra were catered for The Totemist by Ak’chamel, The Giver Of Illness, which sounds like Sunburned Hand of the Man with heatstroke. Love/Dead by Olan Monk defies easy categorisation, though I suppose it’s much minimal techno as anything, though so dark and strange that it’s as if all the lights go out as soon as it begins, and equally so with Metal Preyers by Metal Preyers, which Boomkat describes as ‘chopped & screwed gristle meets ballistic singeli and mutant electro-acholi’, which, though baffling, is presumably accurate. Visions of Bodies Being Burned by clipping. is as hallucinatory as hip hop gets. Finally, Scis by Oval is a more enjoyable album than the new Autechre, for me, and certainly more frantic.

Vocal / pop / indie

Baxter DuryHunteressThe Night Chancers by Baxter Dury may not make me as deliriously happy as his earlier Happy Soup, but it’s still chock-full of his self-deprecating wit, and contains some of my favourite lyrics of the year: Carla’s got a boyfriend / He’s got horrible trousers / And a small car … Carla’s got a boyfriend / I might take care of him, to be honest. Similarly, Pillowland by Jam City doesn’t quite hit the heights of their earlier Dream a Garden, but prods the same hauntological parts of the mind, so that you could convince yourself not only that you’ve heard each track before, but also that each was in fact a key part of the soundtrack to your childhood. Set My Heart On Fire Immediately by Perfume Genius features soaring melodies and straightforwardly brilliant songwriting. Shades by Good Sad Happy Bad is rough and enthusiastic, and a useful reminder that Mica Levi was already excellent within Micachu and the Stripes before she became Britain’s best composer of film scores. Magic Oneohtrix Point Never by Oneohtrix Point Never is surprisingly direct, melodic and memorable, featuring plenty of guest artists and vocals. Finally, Laura Cannell makes another (very different) appearance in this list under the name Hunteress, playing around with synth pop on The Unshackling, and succeeding wildly.

Compilations

Beverly Glenn-CopelandField WorksThe artist I’m most grateful to have discovered this year is Beverly Glenn-Copeland, whose compilation Transmissions: The Music Of Beverly Glenn-Copeland I found staggering – a bizarre array of styles, equal parts inspirational and mawkish, and an odd sort of forward-hauntology in which e.g. Massive Attack tracks are evoked ahead of time, and a sense that the songs alter each time I listen to them. Other than that, I loved Temporary Residence’s anthology Field Works: Ultrasonic featuring Felicia Atkinson, Jefre Cantu-Ledesma and Machinefabriek.

Favourite fiction of 2020

Films

The Lighthouse

Like everyone else this year, I saw very little at the cinema in 2020. My favourite of the few films I saw was the wild, disturbing ride The Lighthouse (Robert Eggers), partly because it’s been my lingering memory of what it’s like to watch a great film in the cinema, booming foghorns and all – and I loved the alienating square aspect ratio. Portrait of a Lady on Fire (Céline Sciamma) was no less an intense depiction of people trapped together, and, equally, Parasite (Bong Joon Ho) contained foreshadowing of lockdown and a lack of fresh air. Steve McQueen’s films from his Small Axe TV anthology series were no less rich and rewarding than his cinema fare. The first two, Mangrove and Lovers Rock, were outstanding – particularly the dazzling choreography and soundtrack of the latter. On a similar note, the short film Strasbourg 1518 (Jonathan Glazer) is entirely choreographed dance, and was the most alarming film of 2020 that I saw.

The SouvenirOf more recent films (i.e. from the last decade), my absolute favourite was The Souvenir (Joanna Hogg, 2019), which I couldn’t stop thinking about for all sorts of reasons, and the knowledge that there’s an upcoming second part is tantalising. Bait (Mark Jenkin, 2019) was delightful in all respects, the best film about film that I’ve seen for a while. I found Pain and Glory (Pedro Almodovar, 2019) surprisingly affecting, particularly Antonio Banderas’ performance. The Personal History of David Copperfield (Armando Iannucci,  2019) was the most fun I’ve had with a recent film, in part due to the pleasure of spotting favourite TV character actors. I loved Aniara (Pella Kågerman & Hugo Lilja, 2018) – exactly my sort of setup, about a Mars migration that turns into an endless voyage – the intertitles signalling greater and greater timescales alone were powerful. And though I loved A Bigger Splash (Luca Guadagnino, 2015) in every respect, Ralph Fiennes’ creepy dancing remains its most memorable moment.

High and LowI watched a lot of classic films this year, partly as a response to lockdown, but also partly because I’ve developed new habits: I no longer fret about not finishing a film in a single session, and I’ve been watching them via BFI Player and MUBI on my (admittedly large-screened) phone, often starting at 5.30am after being woken by my youngest son. Watching films like this, with chunky headphones, in bed in the dark, has been the closest simulation of a cinema setting.

One of my biggest ‘discoveries’ this year was the wider work on Akira Kurosawa, in particular The Hidden Fortress (1958), Yojimbo (1961) and High and Low (1963), all of which rank as some of the best films I’ve seen this year. I finally watched, and loved, the long version of Fanny and Alexander (Ingmar Bergman, 1982), but surprised myself by enjoying Smiles of a Summer Night (Ingmar Bergman, 1955) equally as much. Other classic films I watched for the first time and adored included La Strada (Federico Fellini, 1954), Rome, Open City (Roberto Rossellini, 1945) and The Battle of Algiers (Gillo Pontecorvo, 1966), all stunning. I was blown away by Tartuffe (F. W. Murnau, 1925), particularly its framing story and metatextual elements. Two of my favourite finds were Cairo Station (Youssef Chahine, 1958) and Intimate Lighting (Ivan Passer, 1965), and I adored the ‘fake news’ docudramas Punishment Park (Peter Watkins, 1971) and the lesser-known Alternative 3 (Christopher Miles, 1977). For tense pulp thrills, my favourite films were the incomparable Night Tide (Curtis Harrington, 1961), the near-perfect thriller Breakdown (Jonathan Mostow, 1997) and the fantastical short film Quest (Saul Bass, 1984), included on the recent Phase IV bluray. My favourite horror film this year was the woozy masterpiece The White Reindeer (Erik Blomberg, 1952).

Books

The Easter ParadeMy immediate response to the announcement of the first lockdown was to panic-read substantial classic novels I’d always intended to read. Middlemarch (George Eliot, 1872) worked as intended: I found it totally absorbing and entirely reassuring. I suspect that Candide (Voltaire, 1759), Mrs Dalloway (Virginia Woolf, 1925) and Lanark (Alasdair Gray, 1981) and The Third Policeman (Flann O’Brien, 1967) will each be influential on my own writing in the coming years. My favourite horror novel was Thérèse Raquin (Émile Zola, 1867), which packed a punch partly because I didn’t realise it was going to be a horror novel. My most important reading discoveries in 2020 were the novels of Richard Yates, my favourites so far being The Easter Parade (1976) and Revolutionary Road (1961), the latter being as great a Great American Novel as The Great Gatsby. My most exciting discovery of 2020 was the Jorge Luis Borges-endorsed, proto-SF novella The Invention of Morel (Adolfo Bioy Casares, 1940).

A Cosmology of MonstersIn terms of more recent works, my favourites were A Cosmology of Monsters (Shaun Hamill, 2019), which has one of the most absorbing first chapters of any book I’ve read, Annihilation (Jeff VanderMeer, 2014) which I can’t believe it took me so long to get around to reading, and The Wall (John Lanchester, 2019) which made me seethe with envy. I read a lot of non-fiction for writing research purposes, but the factual books I enjoyed most for ‘fun’ were High Static, Dead Lines: Sonic Spectres & the Object Hereafter by Kristen Gallerneaux (2018) and Deep Fakes and the Infocalypse: What You Urgently Need To Know (Nina Schick, 2020).

TV

SuccessionIt’s been a great year for TV drama. My wife and I binged both series of the hysterical (in all senses) Succession, I was entirely won over by the calm pace of Normal People, and the decidedly more frenetic I May Destroy You seemed to redefine the possibilities of TV drama with every episode. Staged was an impressively comprehensive and complex response to the first coronavirus lockdown, and was very funny to boot. Upright was the TV show that most upset me, offset by all the tremendous joy, and was probably my favourite TV show of the year. Armando Iannucci’s space workplace comedy Avenue 5 turned out to be far better than expected, and I hope there’ll be more to come. The most exhilarating TV I saw this year was World’s Toughest Race: Eco-Challenge Fiji, closely followed by the meticulous, gorgeous and subversive Anaïs Nin adaptation Little Birds. And, likeeveryone else, I thought The Queen’s Gambit was staggeringly good all round.

Games

FirewatchAfter around eight years without videogames, purchasing a half-decent laptop this autumn has allowed me to dabble in games I’ve missed in the interim period, though anything particularly open-world or particularly recent stutters like crazy – for which I’m grateful, as I’m terrified of losing too much time to gaming at the expense of work. Still, I managed to work through Portal-esque puzzle game The Talos Principle (2014), Tomb Raider (2013) and Rise of the Tomb Raider (2015) (the latter better than the first in the new trilogy but representing an almost unsurmountable graphical challenge for my PC). I enjoyed Sherlock Holmes: Crimes and Punishments (2014) far more than expected, appreciating the slow pace. I admired a huge amount of What Remains of Edith Finch (2017), which as well as providing a compelling story, acted as a showcase for the possibilities of videogames – particularly the scene involving slicing the heads off fish on a production line whilst simultaneously guiding a prince around a kingdom whilst also learning about the fragile mental health of the factory worker in question. But the only game that I truly loved was Firewatch (2016), in which the player fulfils a patient role as a lookout in a Wyoming forest, whilst developing a relationship with your supervisor over walkie-talkie. The landscape is stunning, the nudges along the path of the narrative subtle, and the story is deeply affecting, perhaps partly because the game is over within three hours or so.

MACHINERIES OF MERCY now available

Machineries of Mercy by Tim Major

My YA SF novel MACHINERIES OF MERCY is published by Luna Press today! It’s a bit Westworld, a touch Battle Royale, a smidgen Existenz… but set in a tranquil English village that’s really a virtual-reality prison.

You can buy it direct from the publisher here, or from Amazon UK here, or from Amazon USA here, or even better, you could order it from your favourite independent bookshop.

You can also find more information about the novel on this site here, including a video introduction, a video of me reading an extract, and even a Spotify playlist soundtrack to the story.

MACHINERIES OF MERCY author copies

Machineries of Mercy Author copies! This is the smart-looking new Luna Press edition of my YA SF novel, MACHINERIES OF MERCY. Elevator pitch: Westworld meets Battle Royale/Tron/Existenz/the Doctor Who serial ‘The Deadly Assassin’, but in a sleepy English village.

You can find more info about the book here, and you can preorder  direct from the publisher (at a reduced price) here.

HOPE ISLAND articles from around the web

Hope IslandA bunch of HOPE ISLAND articles have appeared online in the last couple of days:

Five of the biggest influences on HOPE ISLAND, including books, films and music – at The Dreamcage.

My ‘favourite creepy children’ – that is, my favourite books and films featuring creepy children, all of which influence HOPE ISLAND to some degree – at The BiblioSanctum

An interview covering my inspirations, my introductions to genre fiction, the state of the industry and future projects – at The Civilian Reader.

My list of ’10 sideways slides into fantasy’ – that is, classic novels in which weirdness creeps up on you, or pops up at unexpected moment – at Horror Tree.

A book soundtrack for HOPE ISLAND, including a Spotify playlist and reasons for each track pick – at Daily Dead.

In addition, more reviews have appeared in various places. For example: Ginger Nuts of Horror, the British Fantasy Society, the Morning Star, and Sublime Horror. Here’s an excerpt from the latter one:

“Intelligent and with a warm, beating heart at its core, Hope Island is that breed of novel that transcends genre definition… The portrayal of Nina’s emotional pain is soaringly honest and had me hooked from the get-go. In truth, I could have written this review using one word only – brilliant – and it would be enough. Hope Island is a claustrophobic, paranoid and exhilarating read.”

Hope Island reviewed in The Times

I’ll be honest, I hadn’t expected this. Yesterday my new novel, HOPE ISLAND, was reviewed in The Times! There it is, alongside books by David Mitchell, Cixin Liu and Chris Beckett. I’m very chuffed, not least because the write-up is so positive. It concludes:

“Tim Major is not yet a 21st-century Alan Garner but he’s getting close, creating an unusual mystery centered on the island’s soundscape, a thing of whispers, screams, susurrations, keenings and — thanks to the presence of the artists’ community — doppler and volume effects and binaural wizardry. Hope Island is arty, arch, chilling, and utterly cock-sure of itself. It is also the only novel I have ever read that made my ears tingle.”

Hope Island Times review Hope Island Times review

Guest post on John Scalzi’s blog

I’ve written a fair few articles to support the publication of Hope Island; they’ll be popping up around the internet during the next couple of weeks. The first two have appeared today:

The first is a big one for me: SF writer John Scalzi allowed me to write a ‘Big Idea’ piece for his ‘Whatever’ blog. I wrote about how parenthood can affect writing, and how I’ve managed to write despite parenthood, and the ways in which Hope Island is a product of my parental fears. Read the article here.

The second is a post I wrote for the wonderful Ginger Nuts of Horror website, about the development of Hope Island, from an initial attempt to write a straightforward, commercial novel, and ending with a moral: How can you spend 200 hours working on a novel and not introduce yourself in every scene, in every sentence? Read the article here.

Book birthday: HOPE ISLAND

Book birthday! HOPE ISLAND is published today in the UK.

It’s obviously not the ideal time to be launching a book, and it feels really strange that none of us can wander into a bookshop right now. So, here’s a convincing simulation of HOPE ISLAND on the shelf, not least so that you can appreciate Julia Lloyd’s terrific spine design. (I don’t normally alphabetise my books, FYI.)

Hope Island on shelfHere’s the back-cover blurb:

Workaholic TV news producer Nina Scaife is determined to fight for her daughter, Laurie, after her partner Rob walks out on her. She takes Laurie to visit Rob’s parents on the beautiful but remote Hope Island, to prove to her that they are still a family. But Rob’s parents are wary of Nina, and the islanders are acting strangely. And as Nina struggles to reconnect with Laurie, the silent island children begin to lure her daughter away.

Meanwhile, Nina tries to resist the scoop as she is drawn to a local artists’ commune, the recently unearthed archaeological site on their land, and the dead body on the beach…

You can find much more information about the book, and endorsements and reviews, here.

If you’re in the UK, the book is available for only £7.99 on Hive.co.uk, and part of the money goes to an independent bookshop of your choice.

Best of British Science Fiction 2019

Best of British SF 2019I’m very proud that my story ‘Concerning the Deprivation of Sleep’ will appear in Best of British Science Fiction 2019, edited by Donna Scott, published by NewCon Press in July 2020.

The story was originally published in Synth #2, and it’s about a father transferring his rationed sleep credits to his young son. I wrote it when I was badly sleep-deprived myself, if that wasn’t already clear enough…

You can see the full line-up and preorder the book from the NewCon Press website.

New SF novella: UNIVERSAL LANGUAGE

I’m very happy to tell you that yesterday I signed a contract for NewCon to publish my novella / short novel UNIVERSAL LANGUAGE, a Martian murder mystery.

Here’s the blurb:

Abbey Oma may be a fine Optic private eye, but she isn’t a people person. When she’s summoned from Earth to investigate a murder within a remote Martian settlement, her lack of social skills is as much an obstacle as the lack of clues. Could aye-aye robot Ai383 really have overridden its programming to kill a human scientist? Who else might stand to profit from the death of Jerem Ferrer in his airlocked lab? With docile Franck Treadgold co-opted as her Watson, Abbey begins to uncover a network of conflicting ambitions involving a ring of illegal diamond prospectors, the colony’s misguided leader, the Martian church and a dream epidemic.

Though it’s a standalone, it’s set in the same version of Mars as a bunch of my short stories, which have appeared in Interzone and Shoreline of Infinity, among others. I had lots of fun writing this one, and after selections in their Best British Science Fiction and Best British Fantasy anthologies, I’m thrilled that I’ll be a bona fide NewCon Press author.

More info soon!

New story: ‘Red Sky at Morning’

Unsung StoriesToday you can read (for free!) my story ‘Red Sky at Morning’ over on the Unsung Stories website. It’s about a lighthouse keeper in the Farne Islands in the 1930s… and monsters.

Unsung Stories has been on my publishing wishlist ever since I started writing seriously, after I read Aliya Whiteley’s duo of astounding novellas, The Beauty and The Arrival of Missives. For a small publisher, their list each year has been of the highest quality, and precisely to my tastes, such as the recent novels Always North by Vicky Jarrett, The Willow By Your Side by Peter Haynes and Dark River by Rym Kechacha, plus the excellent This Dreaming Isle and 2084 anthologies. I’m delighted to have finally published a story with Unsung – it feels like a real milestone.

Read ‘Red Sky at Morning’ for free here.

HOPE ISLAND published in the US

HOPE ISLAND is published in the US today! Here it is, modelled by my youngest son, who I can assure you is nothing like the creepy (murderous?) children in the novel.

The first reviews of the novel are starting to appear online, too. Starburst said there’s ‘a dash of John Wyndham and a soupcon of The Wicker Man in the richly-atmospheric latest novel from Tim Major’, and To the Ends of the Word blog concluded that ‘you should definitely check out this novel if your idea of horror is the psychological type, where the eeriness creeps upon you slowly but surely.’

HOPE ISLAND is out today (5th May) in the US, and 8th June in the UK, published by Titan Books. More details here.

Stories of Hope and Wonder

Stories of Hope and WonderIan Whates at NewCon Press has achieved the impossible and pulled together the most enormous anthology of stories in just a few days. It’s available from today as an ebook, with all proceeds being donated to support NHS staff and other healthcare workers.

It really is enormous: 53 stories, 600 pages, 253,000 words of fiction. And the list of contributors is staggering, with giants of SF/fantasy and loads of terrific newer writers.

I have a story in there too: ‘Like Clockwork’, which is one of my idiosyncratic Mars stories, revolving around an engineer operating a millionaire’s full-size train set.

It’s for the best cause imaginable, and reading it would surely take you a week at least. I really think you should buy a copy.

NewCon Press page, including full table of contents.

Buy the Kindle ebook from Amazon.co.uk.

The Best of British Fantasy 2019

Best of British Fantasy 2019So happy to say that I’ll have a story in THE BEST OF BRITISH FANTASY 2019, edited by Jared Shurin and available in June from NewCon Press. ‘O Cul-de-Sac!’ first appeared in my collection AND THE HOUSE LIGHTS DIM, published by Luna Press, and features a sentient house desperately concerned for the wellbeing of its peculiar new residents.

Congratulations to everyone included in the table of contents! It looks like a fantastic list, all round.

Another of my stories received an honourable mention, too – ‘The Forge’, which was also first published in AND THE HOUSE LIGHTS DIM.

You can preorder THE BEST OF BRITISH FANTASY 2019 here.

HOPE ISLAND available on NetGalley

Here’s a new way for bloggers, reviewers, librarians and booksellers to read HOPE ISLAND ahead of publication – Titan Books is now on NetGalley! Click here for all the details if you fit the bill.

HOPE ISLAND is described as:

Hope Island by Tim MajorA gripping supernatural mystery for fans of John Wyndham’s The Midwich Cuckoos from the author of Snakeskins. Workaholic Nina Scaife is determined to fight for what remains of her family after her partner walks out on her. Relocating to the beautiful but isolated Hope Island is not the fix she had hoped for. Struggling to reconnect with her daughter, the island’s strange silent children begin to lure her away. And then Nina finds the dead body.

By the way, like some other Titan titles, HOPE ISLAND will now have a staggered publication: 5th May in the USA, 8th June in the UK.

It’s not just my novel available – there are five titles in Titan’s initial batch of releases. I’ve been lucky enough to have read two of the books already (as well as the one I wrote, obv). I described EDEN by Tim Lebbon as ‘visceral, cinematic and utterly wild’ and A COSMOLOGY OF MONSTERS by Shaun Hamill as ‘a staggeringly good debut novel, by turns warm and terrifying, tender and devastating’. And while I haven’t read James Brogden’s BONE HARVEST yet, his earlier novels HEKLA’S CHILDREN and THE PLAGUE STONES are some of my favourite recent horror novels. And DESCENDANT OF THE CRANE by Joan He sounds truly awesome too!

The journey of a novel: Snakeskins

I hope you’re all managing in these strangest of times. After the first two weeks of lockdown and homeschooling, my brain’s starting to come alive again, little by little, by which I mean I’m writing again.

I’ll have updates about my next novel, Hope Island, very soon – but for now here’s a turning-back of the clocks by almost a year, to my last novel, Snakeskins. The article below was originally intended to feature in BSFA Focus, but after a mix-up it’s now without a home, so I thought I’d put it up here. It’s an overview of the writing and route to publication, which may be of most interest to upcoming writers.


Beginnings and false starts

In July 2015 I noted the following idea in a Word document:

Instead of the body’s cells gradually being replaced every 7–10 years, it all happens in an instant. This produces a ‘snakeskin’ version of yourself that is able to live independently, for a time. Somebody living a full life might produce eight Snakeskins, each of which continue to live for a short period after being ‘discarded’.

It sounded a rich idea, and even had a title built in. I began writing a story about a teenage girl experiencing her first ‘shedding’, roughly coinciding with her entry to adulthood. The result was… all right. I liked the depiction of the shedding ceremony well enough, but the aftermath felt too brief, constrained by the short story format. I had concentrated on this aspect: Perhaps Snakeskins tend not to be inhibited because they know they have limited time to live. Are they therefore more effective people? But this seemed only one possible repercussion, and more occurred to me over the following days. I wrote this list – the first item no doubt informed by the fact that I was considering quitting my job at the time:

Pros of Snakeskins:

  • You might be able to convince your Snakeskin to do your day job for you
  • Someone to confide in, who understands you entirely
  • Rejuvenation?
  • Sheddings represent important milestones in life, especially the first one

Cons:

  • Can’t necessarily control or even relate to your Snakeskin
  • Unwanted responsibility for someone else
  • Interruption to normal life
  • Desperately sad – like caring for someone with terminal illness

The short story had been vague about the world in which the characters existed. I began to wonder about aspects that might affect wider society. Had people always produced Snakeskins? Did everyone produce them? Did the process have some scientific basis, or was it essentially magic? How would Snakeskins expire – an ordinary death, or something stranger?

Continue reading The journey of a novel: Snakeskins

MACHINERIES OF MERCY to be reprinted

My young adult SF novel, MACHINERIES OF MERCY, was first published in November 2018. It’s about young offenders trapped in a virtual-reality prison modelled after a sleepy English village. It’s creepy and fun!

It was originally published by ChiZine. In late 2019 various revelations came to light about ChiZine’s business practices, which turned out to be… well, all sorts of awful. I won’t summarise them here – you can find various accounts by googling, or start with the Writer Beware overview. While I wasn’t affected as profoundly as many other writers – just a series of very long delays between acceptance and publication – I’ve yet to receive a single royalty statement, and who knows whether that’ll happen now. It goes without saying: please don’t buy copies of this edition.

But – good news! First off, I’ve now regained rights to publication of the book. Secondly, and more importantly, I’ve signed a contract with the wonderful Luna Press, and a new edition of the novel will be published in Autumn 2020. I’ve worked with Luna Press before on my first story collection, and they’re friendly, professional and just all-round excellent.

I’ve updated the MACHINERIES OF MERCY page on this site – where you’ll also find a Spotify soundtrack to the book to act as a teaser for the new edition – and you can read my introduction to the many influences on the novel on the Luna Press blog. More info soon, including a new cover!

New Year roundup

The Pea by Tim MajorIt’s been a good start to 2020. I’ve read a lot, watched good films, Hope Island is done and dusted and ready for May 2020 publication, and I’ve finished the first draft of my Victorian novel and now I’m into the second pass. A few random nice writer things have cropped up recently, so I thought I’d gather them all here, mainly so I don’t forget any of them myself:

  • I wrote a short Victorian-era coda to ‘The Princess and the Pea’ for Fudoki Magazine, which specialises in myth, folklore and fairytales. You can read it here.
  • Snakeskins has been longlisted in the Best Novel category of the BSFA Awards,  and also my short story ‘A Crest of a Wave’ (published in Shoreline of Infinity #15) in Best Shorter Fiction. Julia Lloyd is longlisted in Best Artwork for her wonderful Snakeskins cover, too.
  • On the Ginger Nuts of Horror site, Jim McLeod picked And the House Lights Dim as one of his favourite collections of 2019.
  • Des Lewis reviewed the Pareidolia anthology on his Gestalt Real-Time Reviews site. Among other things, he said of my story, ‘What Can You Do About a Man Like That?’ that ‘Reading this story was like experiencing a classic Ingmar Bergman film.’
  • There’s a lovely teaser write-up of Hope Island in the Titan Books ‘Looking ahead to 2020’ article.

My Writing Year 2019

Snakeskins Titan bauble

I’m happy to say that this year I’ve written more words than in any previous year – 182,000 words, which is a great deal more than my previous record of 133k last year. However, I only spent 30-odd more hours writing this year (282 hours in total), so in fact the high word count is probably more reflective of the fact that I’ve done a lot of drafting and little editing in 2019.

I wrote:

  • Universal Language – Martian mystery novella (45,000 words), currently out with publishers for consideration
  • Four short stories, one of which was commissioned for an as-yet unannounced anthology
  • 85,000 words of my work-in-progress novel, a Victorian fantasy
  • 16,000 words and synopsis as a sample of a meta SF novel

Other achievements this year included:

  • delivering my first academic paper: ‘Aspects of the Gothic and the Uncanny in Les Vampires (1915–16)’ at the Tales of Terror conference on Gothic, horror and weird short fiction at the University of Warwick
  • running workshop sessions at Edge-Lit, FantasyCon and at York Library
  • not freaking out during a joint event with Claire North at Cymera Festival in Edinburgh

And some of my work was published:

  • Snakeskins – my SF thriller novel about clones and identity was published by Titan in May, and had a lovely reception among the UK genre writing community, plus it was positively reviewed in e.g. Interzone and SciFiNow and was picked by the Financial Times as one of their books of the summer
  • And the House Lights Dim – my first collection of weird short stories, themed around homes and families, which received positive reviews e.g. in Storgy and Black Static
  • The collection featured three previously unpublished stories:
    • ‘O Cul-de-Sac!’ – weird horror short story about the fears of a sentient house for its occupants
    • ‘The Forge’ – weird short story about a man who overlays his rival’s brain patterns onto his own, with unwanted results
    • ‘Honey spurge’ – SF short story about the devastation caused by household plants
  • ‘The Bath House’ – weird horror short story about a peculiar cleansing ritual with a shady purpose, in Twice-Told anthology (ed. C.M. Muller) themed around doppelgängers
  • ‘What Are We Going To Do With You?’ – YA horror short story about Capgras syndrome, in Subliminal Reality anthology
  • ‘Hangers-on’ – weird horror short story about fears of parenthood and plastic limbs in a holdall, in The Shadow Booth Vol 3 (ed. Dan Coxon)
  • ‘Concerning the Deprivation of Sleep’ – SF short story about the purchase of sleep credits on the black market, in Synth #2 (ed. C.M. Muller)
  • ‘A Crest of a Wave’ – SF short story about a married couple celebrating their anniversary on the Martian coast, in Shoreline of Infinity, Issue 15
  • ‘What Can You Do About A Man Like That?’ – weird horror short story about toxic masculinity and aural hauntings, Pareidolia anthology (ed. James Everington & Dan Howarth)
  • Also, five of my older stories were reprinted (as well as 12 reprints in my collection), including one, ‘Throw Caution’, selected for Best of British Science Fiction 2018 (NewCon Press)

One other milestone this year – I finally passed the 1 million words mark. It was always an arbitrary target, but when I started out in 2012 it seemed unimaginable that I’d stick at writing fiction for this long and this consistently, and I’m proud that I have. Right now, there seems no danger of me slowing down, so I don’t feel the need for a second million words-ometer.

This year it’s been a little unnerving writing a novel that doesn’t yet have a home and therefore may never be published, after the pleasant experience of writing Hope Island in 2018 as part of a two-book deal. Added to this, my current work-in-progress is knottier than any of my previous novels, mainly because it’s required a lot of historical research in several different areas. But I think it’s good, and I hope it’ll find a home next year.

Looking ahead to more certain aspects of 2020, I have three new short stories already lined up for publication, plus a reprint. Three of these are important publications to me for different reasons – more about those in the new year…

…and my second Titan Books novel, Hope Island, will be published in May 2020, which is something for me to look forward to and dread at the same time. It’s about parenthood, creepy island kids and strange aural phenomena, and it gets quite weird.

Hope you all had productive and happy years too, and here’s to the next year and decade!

*Thanks to the Titan marketing team for the photo of the Snakeskins-inspired bauble.

Tim Major – writer & editor

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