Why I *almost* don’t want my novel to be published next week

In exactly one week, my novel SNAKESKINS will be published. That’s a good thing! And yet I’m feeling… I don’t know. Mixed. Mixed is how I’m feeling.

Here’s the thing. I’ve really enjoyed the long lead-up to publication of this novel. I sold it to Titan Books (…checks calendar…) eleven months ago. I wrote a bunch of additional material in September, signed off on the copyedit in October, received final proofs in January. Since that point the book has been complete, simply waiting to become a real object. I held an ARC copy in my hands in February, then a copy of the real actual book earlier in mid-April.

But even now, with hundreds of actual, tangible copies of the novel having been printed in two continents, the book remains unreal. In one week, on 7th May, the novel will be available to purchase in the UK and the USA. And I’m not ready for it.

This whole long period has been characterised by positivity. SNAKESKINS secured me a two-book deal and an agent. The ARCs were sent to authors I admire a huge amount, who not only read the book, they provided the most incredible blurbs. At various events, friends and friends-of-friends have wholeheartedly wished SNAKESKINS all the success in the world. The goodwill I’ve been receiving has been overwhelming.

I’m not saying that this goodwill is an illusion, or that it’ll evaporate in a week’s time. But I appreciate that all this goodwill is just that – a pleasant wish. In many ways, I’d prefer to stay in this period of daydreams and potential rather than face the hard reality of reviews and sales figures.

I can’t help myself from trying to read the tea leaves about how this is all going to pan out. There’s not a huge amount to go on, and I’m only slightly ashamed to confess that recently I’ve been googling the phrase ‘Tim Major Snakeskins review’ at the beginning and end of every day. But each of these tea leaves* gives me a Good Feeling:

Tea leaf 1: Titan Books are in a fantastic place right now. Within just the last couple of months they’ve published M.T. Hill’s deliriously inventive ZERO BOMB and Helen Marshall’s THE MIGRATION, which is as close to perfect as you could reasonably expect. I’m just about to dive into David Quantick’s ALL MY COLORS, which from the blurb sounds so much my thing that I’m cross that I haven’t written it myself. James Brogden’s THE PLAGUE STONES is out in a couple of weeks and Aliya Whiteley’s SKEIN ISLAND will follow soon. I can’t tell you how happy I am to be in the company of such writers.

Tea leaf 2: The guys at Titan, and my agent, are friendly and not really scary at all. Seriously, they’re lovely. Considering they’re THE GATEKEEPERS to this industry, they’re doing kind of a crappy job of being fierce and forbidding. I had lunch with Cat and George from Titan a couple of weeks ago and we talked about books and films and Art Garfunkel and it was as if they were just interesting normal people, which obviously is madness.

Snakeskins on Instagram Tea leaf 3: The Titan marketing team are clearly incredible at their jobs. There’s going to be a book blog tour, beginning the day before publication! And over the last few days SNAKESKINS has been popping up in the feeds of Instagram book bloggers. Each sighting of Julia Lloyd’s incredible cover gives my heart a little sharp prod.

SnakeskinsTea leaf 4: THAT COVER. When I visited the Titan office I met Julia Lloyd, the seriously talented cover designer, and I swear I thanked her seven times. It was only back when I was shown the cover that I first allowed myself to believe that a bookshop customer might actually pick up my book and buy it, and they totally should because even the spine is awesome and it’ll look really good on their shelf. Also: a great use of spot varnish.

Tea leaf 5: THOSE BLURBS. I’ve bumped into a couple of the authors since they provided blurbs, and I looked deep into their eyes, Larry David-style, and still they swore that they liked the novel.

Tea leaf 6: There have been a couple of early reviews, and they’re good! Booklist called it a ‘taut and fast-paced sf thriller’ and Publishers Weekly used phrases like ‘delightfully tense’ and ‘uncanny tale’ and ‘strong voice’. There are currently three Goodreads reviews (book bloggers, I presume), with one of them giving it 5 stars. I’m prepared for the bad reviews, really I am, and in the past I’ve rarely disagreed with criticisms and not felt too badly stung. But good reviews are good.

Anyway. This time next week the book will be out in the world, and either it’ll be liked or it won’t, and either it’ll sell well or it won’t. I’ve already delivered my second novel to Titan (it’s unconnected to SNAKESKINS), I’ve more or less completed a novella and I’m planning a bigger, weirder novel. My only ambition thus far has been to be allowed to keep writing, and to spend more time writing, by making it a legitimate part of a cobbled-together career. I’m writing more than I ever have before, so I’m winning on that score.

It’s only right to acknowledge that I do have a fair amount at stake. SNAKESKINS isn’t my first novel but I feel wholehearted about it. If it crashes and burns, it’ll hurt.

So all of this is why I’m trying to pay full attention to this moment, when there’s only potential, when I feel able to introduce myself to people as a writer and feel halfway convinced that that might actually be my valid identity, when I’m swimming in goodwill, when at times I’m able to imagine that this whole thing might actually turn out well.

It seemed important to write this blog post to capture a snapshot of a particular moment. I promise to provide an update from the other side. Wish me luck?

* Clearly, I have no idea how tea leaves are supposed to be read.

Twice-Told: A Collection of Doubles

C.M. Muller’s doppelgänger anthology, Twice-Told: A Collection of Doubles was released last month. It’s a beautiful book and I’m very proud to have a story included in it.

Indefatigable book-reviewer Des Lewis has been working his way through the collection, and had the following to say about my story, ‘The Bath House’:

42, as we know, is a significant age, and on this birthday, Mark (with seemingly plain backstory of marriage and two daughters back home) is given, by a friend, the gift of being hitchhiked as it were by a new self, via a ritual – which is compellingly imparted to us – within the genius loci of the eponymous replacement of an old church, a new baptism as it were where the water is hauled by Mark himself from a well, heavy by counterweight of his perhaps not-so-plain backstory’s ill-threaded pulley from the past, and the last line of this work is a particularly frightening one in the context of not only this work but also of the whole book so far. You will not forget that last line, I suggest.

Thanks Des – I’m happy with that summary! I found it pretty creepy to write, too.

You can get hold of Twice-Told: A Collection of Doubles here.

In conversation with Claire North at CYMERA SFF festival

Over the weekend the full programme for the new SFF literary festival, CYMERA, was announced. The festival will take place on 7–9 June 2019 in Edinburgh, and features some amazing guests, including Marian Womack, Tade Thompson, Gareth L. Powell, Adrian Tchaikovsky, Charles Stross, Christopher Priest… and many more – it’s a heck of a list. And Claire North! And me!

I’d been told a while back that I’d be on a panel with Cat Webb (otherwise known as Claire North), but I’d assumed there’d be a bunch of us onstage. Instead, the event is the two of us in conversation – and while this is SO cool, I’m also feeling SUCH anxiety. I love Cat’s/Claire’s books.

We’ll be chatting about unequal societies in fiction, related to my upcoming novel SNAKESKINS (in which a small group of Britons have the power to shed their skins every seven years, rejuvenating in the process) and the Claire North novel 84K (in which anyone can get away with any crime, if they have the money to pay for it). 84K is a superb novel and if you haven’t already read it, you must.

The event will be on Sunday 9th June at The Pleasance in Edinburgh. There are more details on the CYMERA website.

SNAKESKINS author quotes

Good grief. Here are the quotes that have been provided for SNAKESKINS by some of my favourite writers. Honestly, I feel a little faint. I’m very, very grateful for this support.

“Startling imagery, deft storytelling, and assured and engaging writing make Snakeskins simply unmissable.”
Tim Lebbon

“John Wyndham meets Black Mirror in Tim Major’s scintillating novel, a parallel world thriller, which takes as its themes duplicity, paranoia and what it truly means to be human. Snakeskins wrapped its coils around me and wouldn’t let go.”
Mark Morris

“A premise worthy of Wyndham becomes a twisty political SF thriller in the hands of Major. Snakeskins is full of action and surprise, keeping me reading, but the real hook lies in the rich seam of humanity within.”
Aliya Whiteley

“Another great page-turner from Tim Major! We follow Caitlin, a teenage girl, whose ability to produce ‘snakeskin’ clones causes emotional ripples that spread more widely than she’d ever anticipated. It’s a gripping and thought-provoking tale, with Major exploring the wider implications of cloning and extended life-spans in the growth of a corrupt new government which has consequences for all.”
Alison Littlewood

“The world-building is subtle and convincing, a plausible alternate UK where isolationist foreign policy has retarded the country’s technological and economic progress. A cautionary tale for our times.”
James Brogden

“Whether as page-turning thriller, coming of age story, or timely satire on a broken Britain, Snakeskins is a delight.”
Robert Shearman

“Tim Major has a talent for combining big ideas to create something exciting. With Snakeskins he gives us a SF thriller brimming with questions about identity.”
Priya Sharma

Here’s a page with more information about SNAKESKINS, and preorder links. It’ll be out on 7th May – not long now!

Best of 2018 roundup

Though I haven’t written any fiction yet in 2019, the year has got off to a good start in terms of votes of confidence in my earlier work…

I was pleased and surprised to find that my story ‘Throw Caution’ has been longlisted for the BSFA Awards. It was first published in Interzone #276 edited by Andy Cox. It’s a terrific list of nominees, with lots of writers who I now consider friends – I’m very proud to be listed alongside them.

Dev Agarwal at BSFA Vector included my books in his Best of 2018 article: “Tim Major, (who along with Shona Kinsella co-edits the British Fantasy Association’s Horizons magazine) published a young adult SF novel called Machineries of Mercy (ChiZine) and a non-fiction book that appeals to genre consumers, about the seminal 1915 silent film, Les Vampires (Electric Dreamhouse Press). In both works, and in his co-editing of Horizons, Major brings a clear and vivid sense of location and character to bear that makes his narratives — fictional and biographic — come vividly alive to the reader.”

On his Scattershot Writing blog, James Everington included ‘The House Lights Dim’ (from Dark Lane Anthology #2, Dark Lane Books) in his list of his favourite short stories read in 2018.

Finally, and now looking forward to 2019, I recently learned that my story ‘Concerning the Deprivation of Sleep’ has been picked up by editor C.M. Muller for Synth: An Anthology of Dark SF. There’s a list of my upcoming short story publications here, which includes a story in one of Muller’s other projects, Twice-Told: A Collection of Doubles, due out in February.

SF Showcase interview

SF Showcase recently interviewed me about my YA novel, Machineries of Mercy, as well as the upcoming Snakeskins and even a glimpse of the novel after that. The conversation covers the influence of John Wyndham, the original Westworld film and one of my favourite Doctor Who stories, ‘The Deadly Assassin’. Click here to read the interview.

My writing year 2018

This year I wrote about 135,000 new words – more than any other previous year (I usually average around 125k, and in 2017 this fell to fewer than 80k as much of my free time was taken up with moving house, twice). I wrote:

  • Hope Island – novel, in progress (currently 85,000 words)
  • ‘Red Sky At Morning’ – weird short story (2800 words)
  • ‘Throw Caution’ – Mars SF short story (3000 words), published in Interzone #276
  • ‘What Can You Do About A Man Like That?’ – weird short story (8600 words) for unannounced anthology
  • ‘Concerning the Deprivation of Sleep’ – SF short story (2800 words)
  • ‘Dear Will’ – weird short story (2900 words)
  • Three pieces of non-fiction for as-yet unannounced projects, by invitation

This year, I spent 254 hours either writing or editing. I’m not sure if that sounds a lot, but on average it works out as 21 hours per month doing what I love doing – not quite 5 hours per week. When you put it like that, it doesn’t seem like much at all. In 2019 I’m determined that I’ll find the time to write for at least 10 hours per week.

When I wrote my summary of my writing year 2017, I noted that it had been a year of paving the way for an interesting 2018, and I suppose that panned out as I’d hoped. This year I had the following published:

  • Les Vampires – non-fiction book about the 1915 serial, as part of the Midnight Movie Monographs series (Electric Dreamhouse Press)
  • Machineries of Mercy – YA SF novel (ChiZine)
  • ‘The Pale Shadow and the Conjuror’ – mystery short story, Mystery Weekly
  • ‘To Ashes, Dust’ – Mars SF short story, Theaker’s Quarterly Fiction #61
  • ‘Throw Caution’ – Interzone #276
  • ‘Cast in the Same Mould’ – Shoreline of Infinity Issue 13
  • Six of my older stories were reprinted, including two stories in ‘best of 2017’ collections: ‘The Walls of Tithonium Chasma’ in Best of British Science Fiction (NewCon Press) and ‘Eqalussuaq’ in The Best Horror of the Year Vol 10, edited by Ellen Datlow (Night Shade Books).

But, once again, this year has mainly felt like prep for a more exciting next year. Because the biggest news for me this year was the double-whammy of signing with Alexander Cochran at C+W literary agency, and securing a two-book deal with Titan Books. Snakeskins will be published by Titan in May 2019, a milestone around which much of my year will be arranged. (And Hope Island will follow in May 2020. Knowing that my novel-in-progress already has a home has changed my attitude to the writing process, though it’s hard to say whether the net result is that it’s more or less pressurised.)

Secondly, my first short story collection, And the House Lights Dim, will be published in July 2019 by Luna Press. Alongside 13 stories that have previously appeared elsewhere (including a novelette that was originally published as a standalone title, Carus & Mitch), there will be three new stories:

  • ‘O Cul-de-Sac!’ (10,600 words)
  • ‘The Forge’ (7000 words)
  • ‘Honey spurge: Confidential report into dispersal, growth and catastrophe’ (300 words)

Other stories not written this year but to be published for the first time in 2019 include:

  • ‘The Bath House’ – weird short story (4000 words), Twice-Told: A Collection of Doubles anthology edited by C.M. Muller
  • ‘A Crest of a Wave’ – Mars SF short story (2400 words), Shoreline of Infinity
  • ‘Kraken Mare’ – Mars SF flash (250 words), Martian magazine
  • ‘Hangers-on’ – weird short story (2800 words) for unannounced anthology
  • ‘What Are We Going To Do With You?’ – horror short story (6000 words) for unannounced anthology

In addition, behind the scenes I’ve been lining up various events and projects. Next year is going to be busy. More on all that in the New Year.

Perhaps most importantly of all, I’m genuinely closing in on the one-million-new-words mark:

Favourite albums of 2018

My favourite album of 2018 is Double Negative by Low. Low are a fine band with a discography built up over 25 years that, while unshowy, must surely make any other band weep. Like the songs of, for example, Leonard Cohen, beneath what may appear like superficial gloominess has always been a beating heart of optimism and beauty. Double Negative is a departure, and my favourite Low album since Secret Name. Alan Sparhawk’s and Mimi Parker’s ordinarily ice-clear harmonies are buried within fuzz and distortion, often squeezed out as a Sparky’s Magic Piano-esque squelch. I’m a fan of deteriorated sound, that’s for sure, but amidst all this degradation the occasional surfacing of untampered-with vocals feel like glimpses of something divine. It’s the most wonderful album, and ‘Tempest’ is my favourite song of the year.

Modern soul isn’t usually my thing, but Childqueen by Kadhja Bonet absolutely is, filled as it is with gorgeous melodies and lush orchestration. For the most part, the best aural (as opposed to vocal) comparison I can think of is Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On, though there are shades of Kamasi Washington’s The Epic and Stevie Wonder’s Songs in the Key of Life, and the slick production of ‘Mother Maybe’ reminds me strongly of one of my 80s guilty pleasures, Sade’s ‘Smooth Operator’. I can’t think of another 2018 album that feels so pleasurable throughout its running time. In addition, Kadhja Bonet was responsible for the entirety of the album; everything written, sung and played, and she produced and mixed it too, which I find incredible.

The drone album I’ve enjoyed most this year is Rausch by GAS. It’s difficult to describe why one lengthy drone is preferable to another, but there’s a depth to these seven tracks that just, I don’t know, takes me away… It’s only now, listening carefully and attempting to analyse it, that I’m able to identify particular elements: tapping hi-hats, bass thrums, reversed cymbals. Previously, I wouldn’t have been able to describe what produced the effect, only that’s the whole is absorbing and hypnotic. For me, this album is up there with Biokinetics by Porter Ricks and What?? by Folke Rabe.

Click ‘Continue reading’ for lots more picks and a playlist.

Continue reading Favourite albums of 2018

Les Vampires (Midnight Movie Monographs)

Yesterday I returned from FantasyCon. From about the halfway point of the convention I started feeling quite overwhelmed – but not in the what-am-I-even-doing-here? sense that I used to feel at such events. This time I was overwhelmed because I felt comfortable, and because the people I was speaking to are no longer intimidating but are my friends, and because those same people are so very, very talented. Each time I looked around at the faces in a reading room, or a panel session, or at the bar, I felt awed at the thought of all the wonderful fiction these people were producing, and even more awed at all the potential still to be tapped.

Also, it was fun.

In the midst of all this, I failed to take stock of the fact that a book I wrote was released at FantasyCon. My non-fiction book about the 1915 French crime serial, Les Vampires, was launched at the PS Publishing event on Friday. I held a copy – briefly – when somebody asked me to sign it. I picked up a copy for myself the next morning, and jammed it in my rucksack along with books I was far more excited about, including novels by Aliya Whiteley and Stephen Volk and collections edited by Dan Coxon and Mark Morris. When I rolled into my hotel room at 2am I picked up the Les Vampires book, smiled, fell asleep.

I was tired on the train home on Sunday. I decided I wouldn’t begin reading any of the books written by my friends; in my addled state I wouldn’t have paid close enough attention. So, with the guilt of vanity, I started flicking through my own book. Then I ended up reading the whole thing. I felt very emotional.

I realised that I’m proud of my book. In published form, I found it easier to enjoy and appreciate than other books I’ve written, perhaps because it’s primarily factual, but also because it’s a response to a film I adore, and because I think my enthusiasm is clear and real and honest.

I still don’t know whether the book would be comprehensible to somebody who hasn’t watched Les Vampires, and the film is over 100 years old, 7 hours long, and is frustratingly difficult to buy on DVD in the UK right now, all of which makes my book hilariously niche. But I think it’s a good book, and I really do like the 10 pieces of weird fiction I wrote and slotted in between the analyses of each episode of the film. I hope the book is noticed and read.

Anyway, to tie in with my overwhelmed and glowy feelings about FantasyCon in general, I feel very grateful that I was allowed to write Les Vampires. Neil Snowdon, founder and editor of the Electric Dreamhouse Press imprint (he even designed the excellent cover of my book!), was indulgent in letting let me spend legitimate time exploring a film I love. He’s been supportive of my work in general and he was responsible for introducing me to many of the writers who are now my friends. I spent several hours with Neil on Saturday, after having met in person only once before, two years previously, and then for only 15 minutes, and we felt like old friends. I hope we’ll continue to collaborate in the future. I hope the Electric Dreamhouse monograph series will continue to grow, and that the books will find readers and recognition.

So. I had a great weekend, and things are great. I have a new book out, and I’m proud of that.

You can find out more about the book here, and you can buy it direct from PS Publishing or from Amazon.co.uk or Amazon.com.

And if you haven’t already – and regardless of whether you buy my book – you should watch the film. Les Vampires is utterly wonderful and deserves to be seen.

 

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.

Roald Dahl’s writing hut

I’m delighted to have rediscovered this footage of Roald Dahl at work in his writing hut. Though it was first shown on Pebble Mill at One in 1982 – too early for me to have seen on original broadcast – it must have been reused later, perhaps on Blue Peter, perhaps in around 1988, when I was 8. Anyway, the image of Dahl in his hut has always remained the defining image of a writer in my mind, and even when I was young the idea of hiding away to write was tantalising. For whatever reason, the electric pencil sharpener at arm’s reach was always the most memorable element of Dahl’s cosy setup. One of these days I’ll get one myself, despite the fact that I always write on screen.

I have a story in BEST OF BRITISH SCIENCE FICTION 2017

Well! I’m very – no, ridiculously – pleased to announce that Donna Bond has selected one of my stories for inclusion in BEST OF BRITISH SCIENCE FICTION 2017, which will be out in April from NewCon Press. And would you look at that lineup! Honestly, I’m feeling faint at seeing my name listed alongside these authors.

  1. Blinders – Tyler Keevil
  2. In the Night of the Comet (2017) – Adam Roberts
  3. The Walls of Tithonium Chasma – Tim Major
  4. 3.8 Missions – Katie Gray
  5. Over You – Jaine Fenn
  6. The Ghosts of Europa Will Keep You Trapped in a Prison You Make for Yourself – Matt Dovey
  7. Uniquo – Aliya Whiteley
  8. Looking for Laika – Laura Mauro
  9. A Good Citizen – Anne Charnock
  10. Mercury Teardrops – Jeff Noon
  11. The Nightingales in Plàtres – Natalia Theodoridou
  12. The Road to the Sea – Lavie Tidhar
  13. When I Close My Eyes – Chris Barnham
  14. Targets – Eric Brown
  15. London Calling – Philip A. Suggars
  16. The Last Word – Ken Macleod
  17. Voicemail – Karen McCreedy
  18. Green Boughs Will Cover Thee – Sarah Byrne
  19. Airless – N.J. Ramsden
  20. Product Recall – Robert Bagnall
  21. The Endling Market – E. J. Swift

Ellen Datlow picked my story for Best Horror #10

It’s with a certain amount of disbelief that I announce that Ellen Datlow has selected one of my stories, ‘Eqalussuaq’, for THE BEST HORROR OF THE YEAR VOLUME TEN, which will be published by Nightshade Books. The story was first published in Not One of Us #58 in October 201, so thanks are also due to NOoU editor John Benson.

I don’t know if writers are supposed to play it cool about this sort of thing, but I’ve overjoyed as well as overwhelmed! To give some context, here’s a blurb about the BEST HORROR series from the Nightshade website:

“It’s no exaggeration to say that since its first volume in 2009, this series has compiled the absolute best horror short fiction published each year. Every volume has featured a wide variety of stories by well-known authors, from luminaries like Neil Gaiman, Stephen King, and Richard Matheson, to genre figures as Catherynne M. Valente, John Langan, and Brian Hodge.”

The full table of contents for Volume Ten is below. I can’t tell you how happy I am that my story will appear alongside stories by so many writers whose work I love!

Better You Believe – Carole Johnstone
Liquid Air – Inna Effress
Holiday Romance – Mark Morris
Furtherest – Kaaron Warren
Where’s the Harm? – Rebecca Lloyd
Whatever Comes After Calcutta – David Erik Nelson
A Human Stain – Kelly Robson
The Stories We Tell about Ghosts – A. C. Wise
Endosketal – Sarah Read
West of Matamoros, North of Hell – Brian Hodge
Alligator Point – S. P. Miskowski
Dark Warm Heart – Rich Larson
There and Back Again – Carmen Machado
Shepherd’s Business – Stephen Gallagher
You Can Stay All Day – Mira Grant
Harvest Song, Gathering Song – A. C. Wise
The Granfalloon – Orrin Grey
Fail-Safe – Philip Fracassi
The Starry Crown – Marc E. Fitch
Eqalussuaq – Tim Major
Lost in the Dark – John Langan

And here’s the awesome cover!

100 films I love right now

I’ve made a top 100 film list. I’ve tried to avoid objectivity or the temptation to pick ‘greatest’ films – instead I’ve tried to capture a snapshot of my tastes right now. I’ve tried not to pay attention to what would be my usual choices or agonise too much over my selection. I use Flickchart, so I had a starting point of a list of pretty much all the films I’ve seen, theoretically in ranked order – but to make this list I’ve cherry-picked only the films that are currently on my mind or that, when I see their titles, I want to rewatch immediately. It’s a skewed list, featuring lots of films I’ve seen for the first time in the last year or so – if I made a similar list next year, I’d guess that more than a quarter of the titles would be different. It’ll be interesting to see whether e.g. A Cottage on Dartmoor or The Swimmer stay with me.

I’ve listed the films in chronological order, which reveals a surprise: 11 of the films in this list were released this century. It’s notable that most of these recent titles are very downbeat and slow-paced – I hadn’t quite realised this is so clearly a factor in my tastes in modern cinema.

The director who appears most is Hitchcock, predictably. There are three by: Ingmar Bergman, Francis Ford Coppola, Luis Buñuel, F.W. Murnau and Nicholas Ray. There are two each by: Buster Keaton, Carl Theodor Dreyer, David Lynch, Henri-Georges Clouzot, Jacques Tourneur, Jerzy Skolimowski, Robert Bresson, Roman Polanski, Thomas Vinterberg, Werner Herzog, Wim Wenders and Andrei Tarkovsky.

Here’s the full list:

Continue reading 100 films I love right now

Two new stories and an audio recording

I’ve been lax about mentioning publications recently. Time for a roundup.

‘To Ashes, Dust’ is one of my series of Mars stories featuring crawler bases, shifting sand dunes and ‘aye-aye’ robots. It’s been published in Theaker’s Quarterly Fiction #61, available to download for free or to buy as a print copy for just over £3. Des Lewis has reviewed the issue and had this to say about my story:

“In a relatively short space, this moving story of a base on Mars captured me, even with its bespoke names for various factors, like the robots employed, and again, with this set of fictions, a treatment of old men and death, and an amazing concept of moving sand dunes that really NEEDS reading about to be inspired as I became by it and by what the dunes can contain.”

‘The Pale Shadow and the Conjuror’ is my first sale of a mystery story – it’s been printed in Mystery Weekly.

‘For a Tooth’, a spoofy space-opera flash story first published in Every Day Fiction, has been recorded as an audio reading – you can listen to it free at 600 Second Saga.
(Or via several other routes: iTunes, Stitcher, YouTube, Facebook, Twitter)

 

 

Tim Major – writer & editor

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