Category Archives: books

Universal Language Launched

This week, my Martian murder-mystery novella, UNIVERSAL LANGUAGE, was published by the excellent NewCon Press. It’s available in paperback, ebook and the very fine signed hardback edition shown in the image above. It’s satisfyingly chunky; the word count actually edges it into short novel rather than novella categorisation.

I wrote several articles to introduce the book, including:

Also, Runalong the Shelves provided the first review, and – phew! – they liked it:

“…a fascinating mystery to solve while we are in the hands of a unique investigator and then get into a wider tale exploring humanity itself… a mixture of The Doctor and Columbo, [detective Abbey Oma] is a six-foot three private investigator who loves banter, often has to resist the urge to hug people and is very perceptive at working through the evidence and witnesses… a very successful novella mystery and also a great piece of science fiction.”

And, if you’ve read the novella or are contemplating doing so, you might be interested in the book soundtrack, available on Spotify:

(And here’s a blog post explaining the track choices.)

For more information and purchase links, head on over to the dedicated page for the novella.

Out of the Darkness – update

The Kickstarter campaign for the anthology OUT OF THE DARKNESS, which features horror and dark fantasy authors’ stories related to mental health issues, ended yesterday, and it was massively successful – more than 300% funded, with all stretch goals met! This is particularly welcome news, as all royalties, as well as editor Dan Coxon’s fees, will go to charity Together for Mental Wellbeing.

Over the course of the campaign Dan did a terrific job of raising awareness, and, along with other authors involved in the anthology, I contributed to a few articles:

Plus, here’s Dan speaking about the aims of the anthology in general, at Runalong the Shelves.

The anthology will be published by the wonderful Unsung Stories in August 2021, with the following tantalising lineup:

  • Nocturia – Nicholas Royle 
  • The Note – Jenn Ashworth 
  • Lonely Souls in Quiet Houses – Laura Mauro 
  • Seabound – Alison Moore 
  • Goodbye, Jonathan Tumbledown – Tim Major 
  • The Chorus – Aliya Whiteley 
  • Meet on the Edge – Gareth E. Rees
  • The Forlorn Hope – Verity Holloway 
  • Oblio – Richard V. Hirst 
  • Still She Visits – Eugen Bacon 
  • Bloodybones Jones – Sam Thompson 
  • Flotsam and Jetsam – Malcolm Devlin 
  • The Lightness of their Hearts – Georgina Bruce 
  • The Residential – Gary Budden 
  • Replacement Bus Service – Ashley Stokes 
  • Temple – Anna Vaught 
  • The Hungry Dark – Simon Bestwick

Book soundtrack: Universal Language

Universal Language

My Martian murder-mystery novella, Universal Language, will be published on 6th April. It’s a classic locked-room mystery with a twist (besides being set on Mars, that is): the body of scientist Jerem Ferrer is discovered in an airlocked room, and the sole suspect is a robot whose Asimovian behaviour protocols mean it can’t actually commit murder. Private-eye ‘Optic’ Abbey Oma is on the case, soon joined by puppyish Franck Treadgold, investigating the political, commercial and criminal networks of the Mars colony to determine who killed Jerem Ferrer.

Recently I’ve written a bunch of blog posts to introduce different aspects of the novella – I’ll post links to them as they appear on venues around the web. This post is about an aspect that I suspect is more important to me than any potential readers: a book soundtrack. Still, I think it may act as much as an effective primer to the novella as a consolidation for readers who’ve already completed it.

I’ve played this game of creating a book soundtrack for each of my novels and novellas. It doesn’t so much reflect the music I’ve written to, but rather a soundtrack to a hypothetical film adaptation. Having begun to put together a soundtrack after the first draft, the tracks often begin to ‘infect’ scenes on a second or third pass, informing tone, pace or, in some circumstances, characterisation. By the time the manuscript is complete, the soundtrack is (in my mind) inseparable from the book.

Click here to listen to the Universal Language book soundtrack on Spotify. And here’s my reasoning behind the choices:

1. Space Is the Place / We Travel the Spaceways – Sun Ra & His Arkestra
I can’t remember when I decided that my intergalactic private detective, Optic Abbey Oma, would be a fan of free jazz. Quite possibly, it was when I first put my mind to soundtrack choices, after the first draft. I loved the thought of hurtling across the Martian wastes in a rover, blasting Sun Ra from her suit’s in-built speakers. ‘Space is the Place’ is rather on the nose, but I still feel it’s perfect, and this live version performed at Inter-Media Arts in 1991 is raw and raucous, and features a grandstanding outro that would appeal to Abbey’s own ego.

2. I Will Try – Holy Motors
Abbey in detective mode. Despite her bravado and callous exterior, she’s astute and thoughtful. And judging by this song choice, she’s as smooth and idiosyncratic an investigator as Chris Isaak’s Agent Desmond in Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me. Did I mention yet that Abbey Oma would be played by Gwendoline Christie in a film adaptation, if I had any say in the matter?

3. Very Special – Duke Ellington
The wildest of bop. Any of several tracks from Ellington’s album Money Jungle would have fitted. Ideally, this track would play every time Abbey begins to follow a new lead.

4. Price to Pay – Rainforest Spiritual Enslavement
As much as anything, I find a John Peel-ish joy in following Duke Ellington with Rainforest Spiritual Enslavement, though I stand by this segue. Despite her façade, Abbey Oma is prone to deflation, and this track evokes that mood as much as her concentration on the task at hand.

5. Terrain – Julia Kent
Another handily literal track title, as this is music to evoke the Martian landscape. The colonists complain of shared dreams of storms which, I think, would sound like this.

6. Nina Simone – Funkier Than a Mosquito’s Tweeter
Abbey Oma’s self-professed ‘theme song’, with lyrics that resonate with her professional attitude: ‘Clean up your rap, your story’s getting dusty / Wash out your mouth, your lies are getting rusty’. Within the novella, this track is notable for making even mild-mannered Franck whoop and thump the steering wheel.

7. Why Spend the Dark Night With You – Moondog
I love that Abbey loves Moondog. I think they’d get on well, this spacefaring private eye and the busking ‘Viking of 6th Avenue’. This brief, beautiful track is whistled by Abbey twice in the novella, one time while levelling a pistol at Franck.

8. My Little Grass Shack – The Polynesians
Variety is important in both a work of fiction and a book soundtrack. This kitsch Hawaiian ditty represents a turning point in the plot, and, oddly enough given its cheeriness, Abbey’s lowest moment.

9. For Murder – Teresa Winter
A murky mirror image of the Moondog track, featuring the repeated lyric, ‘I’ll show you what the night is for’. I won’t spoil what the night is for.

10. Galaxy Around Oludumare – Alice Coltrane
Another fairly blunt selection, I suppose, but Abbey would love this as much as I do. The entirety of Coltrane’s incredible album World Galaxy suggests off-kilter otherworldliness, the orchestral arrangement at the start of this track is peerless, and the swirling electronica presaging the insane saxophone ‘melody’ is utterly disorienting.

11. Listen to Bach (The Earth) – Eduard Artemyev
Another slight cheat, as this is taken from Andrei Tarkovsky’s film Solaris. But I think it does a wonderful job of evoking the burgeoning religious influence within the Martian community in Universal Language, and it’s insanely beautiful to boot.

12. Sunset – Idris Ackamoor & the Pyramids
End credits music, I suppose. After all that woozy free jazz, this is far more grounded and light. I rarely write happy endings, but the ending to Universal Language makes me smile. I hope one day I’ll get to write more about Abbey and Franck’s continuing cases. They’re a lovely team.

Click here to access the soundtrack playlist via Spotify.

Find out more about Universal Language here.

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 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 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

Book birthday: AND THE HOUSE LIGHTS DIM

And the House Lights Dim - Tim MajorThis came around fast… I’m happy to say that my first short story collection, AND THE HOUSE LIGHTS DIM, is available as of today! It’s published by Luna Press and is billed as strange stories about houses, homes and families.

Here’s something I wrote about the collection when it was first announced:

AND THE HOUSE LIGHTS DIM is my first collection of short stories, which were written over a three-year period. They’re pretty diverse, spanning weird fiction, horror and SF – but I confess that when I wrote them they seemed more diverse than they really are. It was only recently that I realised just how prevalent particular themes have been in my writing: houses, homes and family.

Perhaps it’s no surprise. The earliest of the stories was written when my wife was pregnant with our first child; one of the novellas was written in a mad hurry in the weeks before his birth; nowadays I write in a fog of fatigue due to my second child’s sleepless nights. I think about family constantly and as a freelance editor I’m trapped in my home for the greater part of every day.

In this collection are stories about a sentient house overprotective of its new occupants, a supernatural Greenland shark that attacks a family via sound, a married couple alone on a lengthy space flight, two young girls who live in isolation and in fear of the world beyond their walls, a camping trip that turns a family feral, a post-apocalyptic Center Parcs, a man who has defragmented his mind and another who splices a rival’s brain patterns onto his own.

Most of the stories have been published in various places, including Interzone, Not One of Us, The Literary Hatchet and anthologies published by Fox Spirit, Jurassic London and Hic Dragones. ‘Carus & Mitch’ was previously published as a standalone novella by Omnium Gatherum and was shortlisted for a This Is Horror Award in 2015. People have been very nice about it: Lynda Rucker said it was a ‘compelling, unconventional page-turner… blending a John Wyndham-esque melancholy with a dose of existential despair’. Adam Roberts called it ‘punchy and scary and tense and genuinely moving’ and James Everington at This is Horror said it was ‘an intimate, original, and character-driven take on the post-apocalyptic genre’, all of which made me feel awfully proud.

One thing I neglected to mention in that description are the stories that are new to the collection: O Cul-de-Sac!, The Forge and Honey Spurge. I’m particularly proud of O Cul-de-Sac!, the 10k-word story that opens the collection – though I’m also nervous on its behalf, as if I’m forcing it out into the world rather it being there on its own merits. It’s an unusual story, written once I recognised the theme of the collection – it’s narrated by a sentient house who is proud and then wary of its new occupants.

You can buy AND THE HOUSE LIGHTS DIM direct from Luna Press or from Amazon.co.uk and Amazon.com.

By the way, the beautiful cover image is by Daniele Serra. Do check out his incredible work.

SNAKESKINS reviewed in the Financial Times

This is a cheering end to publication month… SNAKESKINS has been reviewed by James Lovegrove for the Financial Times, and he seems to have enjoyed it very much! Here’s the final paragraph of the review:

“Tim Major masterfully weaves his plot strands together, studding Snakeskins with images of duality and metamorphosis to create a dark and compelling vision of corruption and conspiracy with a subtly satirical edge.”

You can read the full review online here.

Update: It was also published in the FT Weekend edition on 1st June! Click the image to enlarge.

 

Hannah’s Bookshelf radio interview

Last week I was interviewed by Hannah Kate for her show Hannah’s Bookshelf on North Manchester FM. I really enjoyed it, and felt far more comfortable than I expected – it was a long, detailed conversation, but there always seemed plenty to discuss, which has done wonders for my confidence with regards to forthcoming public appearances.

We talked about my recent novel Snakeskins, my upcoming short story collection, And the House Lights Dim and my non-fiction book about Les Vampires – and also my preoccupation with houses, nostalgia and baked beans in fiction.

I also picked my books to cling onto after the apocalypse: John Wyndham’s The Day of the Triffids, John Updike’s collected Rabbit novels and T.H. White’s The Once and Future King.

If you fancy listening to the interview, it’s available to stream on Mixcloud.

SNAKESKINS – its first few days in the world

Well… It’s been a dizzying week. SNAKESKINS was published on Tuesday! It’s in hundreds of bookshops in the UK and the USA – I have photographic evidence! It’s being read right now! People seem to like it!

If I’m honest, I didn’t much enjoy publication day itself. My jittery anxiety translated into me checking my phone every 10 minutes for updates (and there were updates, every time). Wednesday was a bit better. By Thursday I was in the groove.

Because all that goodwill I mentioned a few days ago? It seems that it wasn’t just talk. To begin with, people are buying the book. They’re walking into bookshops or adding it to their Amazon cart. Phew. Furthermore, people who’ve read it seem to have genuinely enjoyed the experience. Whether all of this leads to more sales and more readers, I have no idea, and it’s out of my control. But things are still going as well as I could possibly hope. I keep trying to take snapshots of the current state of things, and the snapshots keep encouraging me.

The most visible evidence that the book is real and out there is the social media promotional tour going on right now. I’m a newbie to Instagram, but there seems a lot of traffic surrounding the book, ably orchestrated by the Titan marketing team, who are amazing. Part of learning to go with the flow this week has been making a decision that the Instagram activity doesn’t need to involve me, and perhaps is better off for me watching but not participating – as mixed in with the Q&As, giveaways and terrific photos are reviews and comments. I’m applying the age-old author rule of not responding to reviews, even when they’re positive. (But do you know what? They really are positive reviews, hooray!) If you follow #snakeskinstour or #titanbooks, you’ll see what’s cooking. The photos alone warm my heart.

Book blogs are more my comfort zone, and there’s a lot of blog activity too. Here are some handy links to everything that’s been published so far on this two-week social media blitz:

And there’s lots more to come!

Snakeskins blog tourFinally, reviews… any author’s waking nightmare. Except these are really positive! Here’s a taster:

“A heart stopping & thought provoking read, which will make you question how you would see your own identity in those circumstances & challenge your perceptions of acceptance.” (5 stars) Paperbacks and Pinot

“I read a lot of YA, yet this adult SF novel is by far one of the most convincing portrayals of burgeoning maturity I’ve ever read. … It’s a remarkably thoughtful consideration of identity and humanity, as the best sci-fi thrillers invariably are.” The Frumious Consortium

“…bizarre, and deeply resonant … glimpses of Adrian Barnes and Atwood at her very weirdest … Somehow otherworldly and yet so incredibly human, politically relevant but also touching on universal themes of identity and mortality, Snakeskins is a novel I will be thinking about for a very long time.”  Folded Paper Foxes

“It’s an unusual setup for an intricate political thriller that coils in on itself, tightening the tension as it circles toward satisfyingly shocking answers.” Barnes & Noble blog

So… I’m more than happy with the ways things are going. Here’s to lots more anxiety and (hopefully) more pleasant surprises next week, as more reviews come in. I’m doing my best to collect articles and reviews on the dedicated SNAKESKINS page. Or you could just skip all that and buy a copy? Just saying.

Snakeskins Titan newsletter banner

SNAKESKINS publication day!

SNAKESKINS is published today! This is my grateful and baffled and happy and anxious face.

Tim Major - Snakeskins publication day 1Thanks to everyone who’s bought a copy already or shared promos or just been generally supportive, to the authors who provided blurbs, to Titan editorial and marketing, to Rose. I’ve no idea how it’ll pan out from here on in, but the book has had the best possible start in life. Thank you!

Find out more about SNAKESKINS here.

SNAKESKINS social media tour

The day is almost upon us… SNAKESKINS will be published in the UK and US tomorrow!

Snakeskins blog tour

To mark the occasion there will be a ten-day book blog tour, starting today – two blogs every day. I know, crazy!

First up today is my guest blog post at Bibliosanctum, about a SNAKESKINS soundtrack to an imagined adaptation. It includes doubles, identity issues, an isolated Britain thirty years behind ours. There are full explanations of each track choice in the article, and the soundtrack’s intended to work as a primer to the book too – no spoilers, I promise!

Snakeskins Instagram tourIf you’re one of the really cool kids, there’s also an Instagram tour – follow #snakeskinstour to see all updates. The first post is a mini-review, and it’s a very positive one, phew!

Finally, one of the book blog reviews went live already, on Paperbacks and Pinot, who said that ‘Snakeskins is a heart stopping and thought provoking read, which will make you question how you would see your own identity in those circumstances and challenge your perceptions of acceptance.’

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.

Invaders From Beyond in SFX and Waterstones

I just saw The Last Jedi, on my own, because childcare, and it was really good, which you all know. And then I went to WH Smiths to get a copy of SFX after having been tipped off about the review of INVADERS FROM BEYOND, which includes my novella, BLIGHTERS, and it really is a very positive review, and then I went to Waterstones and there was the book itself on the shelf a few down from Mark Morris’s terrific NEW FEARS anthology and Adam Roberts’s amazing HISTORY OF SCIENCE FICTION. And then I felt quite shaky about having an actual book in a proper bookshop, too shaky to even think about using my Christmas book tokens, but not so shaky I had to eat at Subway, so here I am on a park bench eating a chicken caesar wrap and another sandwich and I think I’m alright now. Happy New Year everyone!

Publication day: INVADERS FROM BEYOND

Publication day!

INVADERS FROM BEYOND is available *right now*. It’s a lovely, hefty omnibus that contains my novella, BLIGHTERS, alongside MIDNIGHT IN THE GARDEN CENTRE OF GOOD AND EVIL by Colin Sinclair and RAGS, BONES AND TEA LEAVES by Julian Benson.

Here’s the blurb for BLIGHTERS:

Them Blighters are everywhere.
They fell out of the sky last year, great horrible armour-plated slugs with razor-sharp fangs. But ugly as they are, they give the ultimate high to anyone nearby: a blissful, gleeful contentment that people are willing to kill for.
Not Becky Stone, though. All she wants is to drink beer, listen to her dad’s old vinyl, and get her life back to how it was before everything was all messed up.
Blighters? Frankly, she could do without them.

See here for guest posts and reviews of BLIGHTERS, and listen to a Spotify playlist to set the scene.

Or just head over to Amazon to buy it!

BLIGHTERS in print

I’m pleased to announce that my novella, BLIGHTERS, will be released in print by Abaddon in November, as part of an omnibus of three novellas under the umbrella title INVADERS FROM BEYOND.

BLIGHTERS is about giant slugs that have mysteriously landed around the world, which provide anybody nearby with an intense sense of calm and contentment. Becky Stone, a disaffected, snarky twenty-something from Kendal in Cumbria, gets drawn into the search for Blighters for all the wrong reasons. It’s also sort of a murder mystery.

You can find out more about the novella (including reviews, linked guest posts and a Spotify soundtrack) here, or you can just go ahead and preorder the book at Amazon.

Finally, here’s the impressive cover – I’m particularly chuffed that the bottom quote is taken from the lovely Ginger Nuts of Horror review of BLIGHTERS from last year, when it was released as a standalone ebook.

Publication day! BLIGHTERS

Blighters cover thumbnailBLIGHTERS is out today! It’s available as an ebook from Amazon.co.uk and Amazon.com. (Cheap, too.)

It’s a 30k-word novella about giant slugs that have mysteriously landed around the world, which provide anybody nearby with an intense sense of calm and contentment. It’s also sort of a murder mystery.

Over on the Abaddon website, you can read my blog post about the origins of the story and the huge influence of John Wyndham’s The Day of the Triffids, ‘cosy catastrophes’ in general (no surprise, given the title of my website!) and the idea of dormant threats.

Novella announcement: BLIGHTERS

I’m very pleased to announce the (very!) imminent arrival of BLIGHTERS. It’s a novella about a worldwide ‘invasion’ of alien slugs, from the viewpoint of a snarky woman living in Kendal, Cumbria. Here’s the blurb:

Them Blighters are everywhere.

They fell out of the sky last year, great horrible armour-plated slugs with razor-sharp fangs. But ugly as they are, they give the ultimate high to anyone nearby: a blissful, gleeful contentment that people are willing to kill for.

Not Becky Stone, though. All she wants is to drink beer, listen to her dad’s old vinyl, and get her life back to how it was before everything was all messed up.

Blighters? Frankly, she could do without them.

BLIGHTERS will be published by Abaddon as an ebook on 9th July, and it’ll likely be available in a printed anthology (with the other ‘Invaders From Beyond’ novellas) at some point later this year. Thanks to David Thomas Moore at Abaddon for picking up this story!

You can buy the ebook now from Amazon UK (£2.99) or Amazon USA ($3.99).

Blighters cover thumbnail

Martian canals and borrowed ideas in SF

RCoM poster

I’ve got an article up on the Hodderscape website – it’s about Martian canals, the 1964 film Robinson Crusoe on Mars, and the borrowing of ideas in science fiction. It’s rather a ramble, but the main idea is that even misconceptions can lead to good fictional ideas that are then developed by writer after writer.

You can read the full article here.

Favourite books read in 2014

I’m ashamed to say that I didn’t read much this year (23 books, with two still unfinished). Blame my one-year-old son and my recent tendency to fall asleep after reading two or three pages in bed. (Having said that, I may have read Where The Wild Things Are more than 100 times.)

StonerMy absolute favourite this year was Stoner by John Williams, a story so familiar and everyday that each of the protagonist’s disappointments felt like a friend injured. Couples by John Updike didn’t let me down and opens up for me a whole world of Updike novels not featuring Harry ‘Rabbit’ Angstrom. Concrete Island, though flawed in its second half, is my favourite of the three J G Ballard novels I read (the others being High-Rise and The Drowned World). The Machine by James Smythe was the only recently-released novel I read, but I thought it was fantastic. My favourite non-fiction book was Understanding Comics by Scott McCloud. And I wish there were more books as digestible and unmissable as Sum: Tales From The Afterlives by David Eagleman.

Favourite books read in 2013

Rabbit

Harry ‘Rabbit’ Angstrom novels (John Updike, 1960-2000)

I found reading Rabbit, Run (1960) a revelation. Its third-person, present-tense point of view lends the story an immediacy, but that would be nothing without Updike’s immaculate observational powers. That vast sections of the novel feature nothing more dramatic than Harry driving around in the dark, yet are still gripping, speaks volumes. While I found the switch to Janice’s point of view the least satisfying element, stylistically, the narrative bombshell dropped still makes me choke.

Reading a novel that you fully connect with is wonderful. Discovering subsequently that you have the ability to follow the same characters over forty years at decade-long intervals… that’s a rare treat. Rabbit Redux (1971), Rabbit is Rich (1981), Rabbit at Rest (1990) and the novella Rabbit Remembered (2000) each cover subtly different aspects of changing American culture and, more importantly, of the psyche of the average American male. Taken as a complete work, they are as perfect a novel as I think I’m ever likely to read.

 

The-Martian-ChroniclesThe Martian Chronicles (Ray Bradbury, 1950)

This ‘half-cousin to a novel’ (Bradbury’s own words) comprises 28 loosely connected stories. Most of them had been published previously in the late Forties in various SF magazines. In collecting them here, Bradbury traces connecting lines between stories and recurring characters. The effect is a disorienting series of snapshots that nevertheless builds up a far more complete vision of the future than a more straightforward novel.

And what a vision! At times, Bradbury’s prose can be staggeringly beautiful. For example, from ‘The Locusts’: The rockets set the bony meadows afire, turned rock to lava, turned wood to charcoal, transmitted water to steam, made sand and silica into green glass which lay like shattered mirrors reflecting the invasion, all about. Bradbury’s Mars, modelled in the image of the memories of homesick astronauts, tells us far more about nostalgia for one’s childhood than about the Red Planet.

At heart, my favourite science fiction has little to do with science. I may have only read it for the first time this year, but The Martian Chronicles is my favourite science fiction novel.

 

Other EyesOther Days, Other Eyes (Bob Shaw, 1972)

A down-at-heel scientist accidentally creates glass that holds its image for years. Inventions, breakthroughs and problems ensue.

I read this in a couple of sittings, amazed at how much mileage Bob Shaw gets from a simple, hypothetical invention. The eventual use of ‘slow glass’ as a surveillance tool prefigures issues topical today: CCTV and Google’s Streetview and Glass projects. Throughout the novel, interspersed sections paint vignettes of different aspects of life that have been irrevocably changed by the invention of slow glass, many of them heartbreaking.

While the main plot may wrap up a little too quickly, and the love interest is under-developed, Shaw’s novel dwells on the human resonances of an important breakthrough. I’ll be searching out more of his novels in 2014.