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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  • The collection featured three previously unpublished stories: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.

The Interminable Suicide of Gregory Church (Daniel Kitson)

I saw Daniel Kitson a couple of years ago, when he hosted a charitable comedy gig in aid of orangutans. He’d arrived late and then seemed unsure how to tackle his duties, interpreting them variously as exploring the confines of the orchestra pit, lying down, staying on stage for far too long and eventually hurling chocolate bars into the crowd at nose-bruising altitudes. He was a shambles, but gloriously so.

His new performance, The Interminable Suicide of Gregory Church, shows Kitson in his element. I use the word ‘performance’ because I can’t think of a neater term – it has all the trappings of a stand-up gig, but the structure of a one-act shaggy dog story. Wandering onto the stage before attaching his microphone, Kitson begins his tale by stating ‘The rest of this isn’t true, I made it up. But this bit is absolutely true.’ Then follows his story of discovering 25-years’-worth of correspondence between an irascible old man and the people that irk him.

Kitson’s summarisation of the 30,000-plus letters takes the form of considered research: he refers to a notebook for exact quotes and describes the limitations of his knowledge about Gregory Church. He also weaves in his (Daniel Kitson’s) own life, as he claims to have read the letters over a two-year period – many of the contained revelations are framed by the circumstances in which he read them.

He’s a unique performer. Kitson’s delivery is at breakneck speed, punctuated only by freezes caused by his stammer, or by his getting distracted by people in the audience. He portrays himself as a shambling amateur, yet the sheer volume of content that he’s memorised suggests otherwise. And his story, although seeming aimless at first, becomes coherent, plausible and sweet. Once his tale is told, he removes his microphone and delivers a heartfelt and moral summary, barely audible, forcing the audience to lean in towards him.

It’s the most affecting performance I’ve seen in ages. The structure reminded me of Jorge Luis Borges’ trick of conjuring whole lives and works from imaginary references and scholarly debate about fictional fictions. With Daniel Kitson’s affable and shambolic delivery, smuggled under the pretext of being stand-up comedy, this technique is incredible and, by the end, it barely matters whether the letters existed or not.