Good News in a Bad World

Donald Trump. Egad. I mean, really? And the UK still seems to be pushing ahead with Brexit, without much sense of having a plan or even a clue. I’d much rather we didn’t leave the EU, but if we’re going to I’d far prefer for us to have something outlined that might give us a fighting chance in the world economy. Not much sign of that, sadly, unless “have our cake and eat it” is a plan.

But I can do nothing about that. All I can do is be happy and grateful for the smaller things in my life that are good.

First of all, we have a confirmed release date for the US edition of DARK SKY, which will be coming out on July 11th from Saga Press. I’m really excited for this: I think it’s a better book than DARK RUN (I know I’m hardly likely to say that it’s worse, but honestly, I think it’s better) and I hope everyone on that side of The Pond will agree! I’m also looking forward to seeing the final cover for it too, I saw the rather fantastic initial artwork a while back (by John Harris, just as DARK RUN was) but I haven’t seen the finished product yet.

Secondly, as I have mentioned online previously, I’ve started doing freelance work for Black Library, the publishing wing of Games Workshop. What I thought I’d do at this point is to give a brief overview of how this came about, and what it entails.

First of all, I live in Nottingham and have done since 2000 (full time since I graduated in 2003). Games Workshop’s HQ is in Nottingham. As a result, it is no surprise that I have encountered many people over the years who work for them given the cross-over with interests in fantasy and science-fiction, and indeed with the rock/punk/metal etc “alternative music” subculture.

Every year (I think) Black Library does an open recruitment month, where anyone who’s interested is encouraged to apply to write for them as a freelancer. I tried this a couple of years ago and had to do a couple of short fiction pieces, no more than 500 words long.

They didn’t want me.

Then, earlier this year, a writing vacancy came up in the newly-created Specialist Games department. This would involve some areas of games design but also writing background text and the sort of flash fiction that fills gaps in the company’s rulebooks, and so on. So I applied to that, as it sounded like a really fun, interesting job.

They didn’t want me for that, either (although I did get good feedback on the short story I’d written as part of the application).

Then, a couple of months ago, I was chatting to a friend who works for Games Workshop and has also had some novels published with Black Library and, at least half-jokingly, said “Oh, I don’t suppose Black Library would be interested in a novel about [not particularly serious Games Workshop-related idea] from a randomer, would they?” To which my friend replied “Well, you’re not a randomer, you’re a published author. I’ll drop one of the commissioning editors a line.”

And he did. And then I found myself talking to an editor at Black Library who asked me a bit about my knowledge of the company and its products, and then gave me a brief to write the first thousand words of a short story on. I did this and sent it to him, and he and his fellow editors were happy enough with it that they commissioned the full-length piece from me, and sent through a Contract To Provide Goods Or Services to Games Workshop (which involved me having to confirm that I don’t break EU laws on child labour and similar stuff, which I certainly don’t think I do…).

So I wrote the full-length short story and sent it in, and then had to do an invoice. I’ve never done an invoice before! Luckily I was able to tap up another freelance author I know, who gladly gave me some advice on what should be on an invoice and when I should send it in, and so forth. And now I wait for the rest of the editing process, to see what changes I’ll need to make so it fits in with my editor’s vision of what he wants.

And so there you are. Suddenly, I’m not just a published novelist releasing novels through Saga Press and Del Rey UK, I’m also a freelance author.

(I’d like to give thanks to Gav Thorpe and Andy Hoare for their assistance with my burgeoning Black Library career, as well as Stuart for the feedback on my initial draft)

One of the main lessons here is a lesson I’ve espoused before (bottom of that entry): sometimes it’s not just what you can do and how hard you work, sometimes it really comes down to luck. It might be a case of being in the right place at the right time, or it might be a case of who you know (or both: I wouldn’t have met the friend who put in a good word for me had I not been living in Nottingham). Neither of those things in and of themselves are likely to give you a new opportunity if your writing sucks and you have no work ethic, but sometimes it can be enough to open a door that would otherwise have remained shut (the other thing is persistence: if I’d just given up on writing for Black Library after my first rejection and hadn’t even mentioned the possibility afterwards then it wouldn’t have come about either, or at least not in this way).

Pretty much every part of my writing career has, in one way or another, come down to luck. Knowing the right person, being in the right place at the right time, seeing the right link to click, or whatever. So if you happen to be reading this blog as a writer who’s struggling to get recognition: keep trying. At some point you might get the break that means that, if your work’s good enough or simply what someone’s looking for at that moment in time, you’ll be up and running. And once you’re up and running, other doors can start to open.

And that, for me, is a good thing in a world that, while maybe not truly bad, certainly isn’t always good.

Posted in Updates | Leave a comment

Thoughts on Luke Cage

We’ve recently watched Luke Cage, and I thought I’d jot down some thoughts on it. The first thing to say is that although we’ve watched Daredevil we haven’t seen Jessica Jones. Reason? If you’ve worked for a homelessness charity for the last thirteen years or so then a series that’s primarily focused on emotional abuse of a female character just seems a bit too much like work. I applaud that it’s been made, and that it’s brought up conversation about domestic abuse and gaslighting, but I don’t want to watch it. Luckily, not having seen the preceding series doesn’t matter that much. You get something of a cold open with Luke Cage, but it quickly establishes who he is and what he can do, even if it takes a little why to get to the “why” of it.

One thing I loved about the series was the feel of the setting. As should be fairly obvious to anyone who’s seen a picture of me or read my bio, I am not a black American, and especially not one from Harlem. As a result I can’t comment on whether the portrayal of Harlem and the culture within it in this series is accurate, but what I can comment on is the fact that it felt real and natural. It’s also a big departure from the tone of Daredevil: Matt Murdock is a Hell’s Kitchen boy “made good”, if you like, now working as an attorney (albeit one in near-constant money trouble). By day, he helps people in his community by doing things that they don’t have the legal knowledge to do, and by night he helps his community by skulking through shadows and knocking seven bells out of people who possibly deserve it.

Luke Cage isn’t a Harlem native: he’s from Georgia. However, he’s definitely part of his community. Everyone knows his name, and it’s not long before at least some people find out what he can do. What’s more, unlike in Daredevil, the antagonists we meet at the start of Luke Cage are from the same community. It’s no spoiler to say that Cornell “Cottonmouth” Stokes is presented as the main antagonist at the start of the series: it’s only about twenty minutes in that you realise he’s definitely up to no good. Also, Luke Cage works at his nightclub washing dishes. Another main character, Detective Misty Knight, recognises a young dead man at the site of a shootout because she knows his mother. This level of closeness is something far removed from Daredevil, where the heroes spent most of the first series trying to piece together who it was they were actually working against.

Some people have criticised Luke Cage as starting slowly, but I would disagree. I think the pacing works very well throughout, and it certainly held my interest. If I had a criticism at all, it would be that about halfway through the series there is a major TWIST~! that sets it on a new course, and it was a course I enjoyed less. I can’t really comment much on that without spoiling it for those that haven’t seen it, but a new character gets a lot of focus and while they are an interesting character, it damages the balance of the series for me. I think I enjoy things less when heroes are set against some sort of personal vendetta, unless that vendetta has been accrued by the actions of the hero that we’ve already seen. In Daredevil, for example, Wilson Fisk absolutely hates Matt Murdock, and that’s entirely valid and compelling because we’ve seen exactly why he should. The reasoning for the personal vendetta in Luke Cage feels somewhat shallow in comparison.

Overall, I can highly recommend Luke Cage. It has a strong performance from the lead and compelling secondary and background characters: no-one really feels like a stereotype, pretty much everyone has nuance and detail. I especially enjoyed Shades, who in some ways was the most intriguing character going. One thing I can say, though, is don’t expect a clean-cut ending: there are certainly some threads left dangling…

Posted in Updates | Leave a comment

Scifi Panel At Waterstones – The Aftermath

Well, that was rather fun!

“That”, in this context, was this:

Waterstone poster

On Monday evening I joined forces with Rod Duncan, Andrew Bannister and Deborah Install at the gracious invitation of Dan at Nottingham Waterstones to be part of a panel about scifi. Nottingham is now a City of Literature, or something, so although none of us seemed quite sure what that means Dan is very eager to promote the authors of Nottingham outside of the genres it’s known for (playwrights and crime writers I think, mainly).

I don’t think I can really recount everything that we talked about, but we all agreed on various things such as how we write because we feel the need to tell stories, even if it’s just to ourselves (obviously for us, we’re lucky that it’s not just to ourselves – I guess your milage may vary as to whether anyone else thinks that makes *them* lucky…), that we write in a linear fashion, and that research can end up being somewhat all-consuming unless we rein ourselves in.

I’d like to thank Dan for organising it, my three fellow writers for their excellent contributions, and everyone who came along to make it such a fun evening and ask interesting questions.

Andrew, me, Deborah, Rod

Andrew, me, Deborah, Rod

Posted in Updates | Leave a comment

Sci-Fi Panel at Nottingham Waterstones

I like Nottingham Waterstones: they put my books out onto display tables and other nice stuff like that.

They also ask me to come and speak on a panel of science fiction authors.

Enter here for scifi goodness.

Enter here for scifi goodness.

This panel will be taking place on Monday October 10th from 7pm: it’s not certain yet whether entry will be free or whether there will be a £3 entry fee that will be redeemable against a purchase of a book by one of the featured authors, but I’ll update about that as soon as I know.

“And who are these featured authors?” I hear you cry:

Deborah Install

Andrew Bannister

Rod Duncan

While we don’t yet know exactly what we’re going to be asked about, it seems that there will be general discussions on the subjects of world-building and research, our own individual preferences, and about science fiction’s place in the world of literature today. I’m looking forward to it a lot, and I’d love for you to come and join me.

Posted in Updates | Leave a comment

LONDON CALLING pt. 4 – Sunday at Nine Worlds

I only actually made one panel on the Sunday at Nine Worlds – “The Limitations Of A Strong Female Character” at 10am, where a panel of six (well, five and a moderator) discussed the difference between a “Strong Female Character” (i.e. a female who is physically strong, good at fighting etc) and a strong female character (i.e. a well-rounded and complex female character who may or may not be good at fighting but has her own agency and motivations and is basically a fully-realised person). There was much talk about how, too often, SFCs are basically reduced to being a stereotypical male character – physical tough, emotionally remote and so on – in a female body. The new Ghostbusters was obviously mentioned, but also the more recent development of Sansa Stark in the GoT TV series, as well as a whole bunch of others (the most intriguing one to my mind that I haven’t read is Baru Cormorant, who apparently fights her nation’s conquerers from within its own system – I’ll have to check that out).

Side-and-almost-completely-unrelated note: Tom Holt has written a hell of a lot of books, hasn’t he? (I didn’t know he was also K.J. Parker)

I really wanted to get to the “Tricking The Reader” panel at 11.45 but unfortunately actually checking out of my hotel room got in the way. Luckily I could dump everything in my car, but the Novotel could have also stored my luggage until I was actually ready to leave, which could have been really useful.

The next couple of hours after I’d checked out I spent mainly chilling out, writing a few more words of my current WIP, and checking out the vendors’ expo in the basement. It wasn’t huge but there were some good stalls there, including one selling cut acrylic necklaces (I got my wife one with a stegosaurus and a speech bubble reading “Curse your sudden but inevitable betrayal!”). Then at 2pm it was time for my final action of the convention: book signing at the Forbidden Planet stall!

Wearing glasses because contacts until 3am will knacker your eyes. Still had someone telling me I looked very different with glasses on. MY HAIR IS AS TALL AS THE REST OF MY FACE HOW CAN GLASSES MAKE A DIFFERENCE?

That guy sitting next to me is Gav Thorpe, current Black Library author for Games Workshop as well as a freelancer. I met him back in October 2015 at Nottingham Writers’ Club Scifi Evening, and I can confirm that he is an all-around Good Bloke. He was also involved in developing and writing about the various GW games I played as a teenager, which is kind of cool.

With the signings done, it was time to bid farewell to everyone I could find whom I knew, and begin to make my way back to Nottingham. It was also time to reflect on the convention as a whole, which was actually pretty easy.

I loved it, again.

I think that last year’s event may have had slightly more sessions that I was REALLY interested in, and there was more choice because of the different scheduling. However, this year’s scheduling meant that although you still of course couldn’t attend everything you had less of a problem of “I have to leave this one early to make the next one” or “I can either eat or make the next session I want to go to”. The venue worked better as well: better rooms in general, everywhere had microphones, the corridors were wider and so less crowded when moving from place to place. And on a purely personal note, I had a massive blast DJing: probably the most fun I’ve ever had doing it, which was a big boost to my opinion of the event in general.

I will be returning next year, and I urge you to as well. One thing that has come out of this year’s is the news that they made a massive shortfall in money (to the tune of nearly £20,000, or so I heard). Obviously that’s not the sort of thing that can be absorbed two years in a row, so I’m really hoping that the support for it grows even further next year because this is genuinely a wonderful experience run by wonderful people.

Also, if they get me back for the Bifrost Disco I might just be able to get you to dance to something atrocious like this…

 

MIKE BROOKS – Drowning Pool vs Psy: Let The Gangnam Hit The Floor

Posted in Updates | Leave a comment

LONDON CALLING, pt.3 – Saturday at Nine Worlds

So. Saturday at Nine Worlds.

After another huge breakfast which included waffles with Nutella, I headed for a 10am panel of “Game of Thrones: Wild Speculation” which was basically a couple of massive GoT fans leading a discussion on what people thought would happen in Series 7 (spoiler: we think people will die). I attended this with Blaise, apparently unharmed after friday night in The Party Hostel, and also met up with Anna Smith-Spark, author of the forthcoming ‘The Court Of Broken Knives’ whom I met at a similar discussion group at Nine Worlds last year (we then went down the road to grab a snack and a drink at a Costa with someone cosplaying as Danerys, which made for an interesting group). Following that I made it to ‘How To Idea’ at 11.45am, where a group of authors discussed where they get their ideas from (yes, really) and also, and probably more importantly, how they utilise, pursue and develop them.

At the last moment I’d noticed that my former editor from Del Rey UK Michael Rowley had joined the ‘Exploring Chinese Science Fiction’ panel at 1.3opm. I managed to catch him for a quick catch-up chat in the lobby, but unfortunately I’d been watching some of Watford vs Leicester in my hotel room in the break and practising a couple of songs on my acoustic guitar (more on this later) and so I turned up too late to get into his session, or indeed into any of the other sessions running at the same time. This maybe wasn’t such a bad thing: I chilled out and went to get a sandwich for later, then headed to the biggest room of all, the Cremant Suite, for the Bifröst cabaret soundcheck (more on this later). After that was done, it was time to go and get ready for the one panel I was on this year:

“EWOKS! Shameless Commercial Creations, Or The Creatures That Crushed An Empire?”

Someone had been meant to moderate the event but they’d had to pull out of the event for personal reasons leaving three participants: me, Sara, and Ash, who was also a Nine Worlds staff member. I’d come up with five questions earlier in the week that we decided to use, and we talked around the topic as best we could. It was a small panel in a small room with a small audience, but I think we all had fun: highlights for me included realising exactly how passionate I was that ewoks are essential to The Return Of The Jedi’s plot (contact me if you want me to explain, but you may regret it), Sara’s point that the ewoks are the only actual complete culture we see in any of the original trilogy, the impromptu “Bob The Builder on the Death Star” singalong, and the final conspiracy theory that Supreme Leader Snoke is actually an ewok (I’d go into more detail, but the theory got refined further on Sunday so I’ll cover it then).

Anyway, after that I had to run to my hotel room and get ready for the cabaret.

The Bifrost cabaret is a yearly event, a variety show featuring all sorts. This year they had performance poets, a pole dancer dressed as Deadpool (Deadpole), various musicians, a musical comedian (Jay Simpson, very funny indeed, although his song where he names all 270 or so tube stations in two-and-a-half minutes left the sign language interpreter just throwing her hands up and giving up), at least one regular comedian, a couple of magicians and a steampunk burlesque performer (warning: link is to video of performance).

Oh, and me.

You see, I’d volunteered to go down with my acoustic guitar and play two songs. The second song was one I’d written specially for the occasion about entitled fans, called “Everything’s Ruined Forever”.

Me Bifrost

Credit: Andrew Merritt

The first one was “Fuck You, Joffrey Baratheon” (which I played in the wrong key), which made Hap the BSL signer do this a lot:

Bifrost signer

Credit: Andrew Merritt

Sorry, Hap.

I’m pleased to say that both of my songs got a lot of laughter, and according to Blaise (who was in the audience) people sang along with the chorus of “Everything’s Ruined Forever”, which is fantastic. After I’d been on I ran to my hotel room to dump my guitar and then went to my car to get my CD decks and my CDs, finally making it back in time to catch the last act and the cabaret’s triumphant conclusion (Jade the compere had been dressed as a sort of punk Puck from A Midsummer Night’s Dream all evening, and closed it with Puck’s final speech).

CD decks, you say? Yes, because after the Bifrost Cabaret comes the Bifrost Disco, and I’d volunteered to do this, too. There was a minor hitch in that one of the other two DJs also had to pull out at the last minute, but Elaine (who did it last year) was still around, so between us we got set up and launched into the final part of the night.

I can honestly say that the Bifrost Disco is the best crowd I have ever played for. They danced to everything, from… well, perhaps it’s best if I write out the set, for those who are interested (with (r) denoting a request):

ELAINE

MANISHA – Somewhere Over The Rainbow
QUEEN – Hammer To Fall
WEIRD AL YANKOVIC – Hardware Store
TEGAN & SARA – Everything Is Awesome
THE RUNAWAYS – Cherry Bomb
TALAHASHI YOUKO – Cruel Angels
RAMIN DJAWADI FEAT. TOM MORELLO – Pacific Rim Main Theme
THE AUTOMATIC – Monster
THE CRYPTKICKERS – Monster Mash
MICHAEL JACKSON – Thriller
JOSS WHEDON/JAMES MARSTERS – Rest In Peace
CHVRCHES – Bury It
RAY PARKER JR. – Ghostbusters Theme
DOLLY PARTON – 9 to 5

MIKE

STAN BUSH – The Touch
THE ATARIS – Boys of Summer
REPUBLICA – Drop Dead Gorgeous
MY CHEMICAL ROMANCE – I’m Not Okay (I Promise)
FEEDER – Just A Day
FOO FIGHTERS – Everlong
DJ BLAZE – Metallica vs Lady Gaga: Enter Telephone
EVANESCENCE – Bring Me To Life
SAVE FERRIS – Come On Eileen
REEL BIG FISH – Walking On Sunshine

ELAINE

VERKA SEDUCHKE – Dancing Lasha Tumbai
POLI GENOVA – If Love Was A Crime (r)
ALESTORM – Wolves Of The Sea
IAN HU & MARK LAMBERT – Red Dwarf Theme
NICKI MINAJ – Starships
Star Trek Theme
MELO – Star Wars Disco Theme
QUEEN – Flash
JIMI HENDRIX – All Along The Watchtower
Captain Scarlet End Titles
BABYLON ZOO – Spaceman
Steven Universe Theme
BLONDIE – Atomic

MIKE

THE TIMELORDS / KLF – Doctorin’ The Tardis (r)
ERWIN VAN BEEKVELD – Taking The Hobbits To Isengard
ANDREW SPENCER & VAMPROCKERS – Zombie 2K10
CHEMICAL BROTHERS – Galvanise
KORN FEAT. SKRILLEX & KILL THE NOISE – Narcissistic Cannibal
MIKE BROOKS – Drowning Pool vs Psy: Let The Gangnam Hit The Floor
MINDLESS SELF INDULGENCE – Shut Me Up
NINE INCH NAILS – Closer (r)
THE OFFSPRING – Self Esteem (r)
GREEN DAY – Basket Case (r)
BOWLING FOR SOUP – Girl All The Bad Guys Want (r)
BON JOVI – Livin’ On A Prayer
IRON MAIDEN – The Trooper (r)

ELAINE

DR HORRIBLE – Bad Horse Chorus/Brand New Day
M.I.A. – Paper Planes
JANELLE MONISE – Q.U.E.E.N. (r)
POMDETER – Call Me A Hole
PLACEBO – Nancy Boy
PIG WITH THE FACE OF A BOY – The Complete History Of The Soviet Union
THE CARDIGANS – My Favourite Game
THE PRODIGY – Out Of Space
JEFF WAYNE – Eve Of The War (r)
POKEMON – Trainer Battle (Red Blue Yellow)
JAISON PAIGE – Pokemon Theme
ROCKY HORROR – The Timewarp
IDA MENZEL – Let It Go

Me DJing nineworlds

Someone asked me if I had a recorded version of “Fuck You, Joffrey Baratheon” to play. I don’t. There isn’t one.

 

So there you have it, the setlist for Bifrost Disco 2016. After that I went and got a much-needed shower and got to sleep just past 3am, with one more day to go…

Posted in Updates | 1 Comment

LONDON CALLING, pt.2 – Friday at Nine Worlds

Last year Nine Worlds was held at the Radisson Blu next to Heathrow, which is a spectacular hotel with impressive marble stairways, water features and so on. Unfortunately the staff seemed at best nonplussed and at worst downright grumpy about having a hotel full of geeks descend on them: I didn’t experience any problems myself but then again I’m a cisgender white male who wasn’t cosplaying as anything particularly bizarre. There were also some issues in terms of accessibility, the available room sizes, and also the amount of time between sessions (a mere fifteen minutes or so, as I recall: you had to race around the hotel to make the next session, and usually had to miss at least one in order to eat).

This year it was held at the Novotel London West in Hammersmith, and the difference was immediately obvious both in terms of location, venue and organisation. The Novotel was nowhere near as picturesque as the Radisson Blu (I mean, it’s a perfectly nice hotel, but not spectacular in any way) but the available spaces were more plentiful and (in general) larger. Also, its location in Hammersmith meant it was still easily accessible (the A4 literally goes past the front of it and it’s about 100 yards from the tube station) but there were far more amenities nearby: instead of being tied to expensive hotel food provision, a McDonalds next door or venturing into suburbia to find a pub, there were sandwich shops and supermarkets aplenty right on the doorstep. The staff were cheerful and helpful and seemed perfectly happy to have us there (the one exception being a barman whom I overheard being asked to go to ‘Table 4′ by a colleague and didn’t want to because the guy there was dressed as Slave Leia). Most importantly, perhaps, there was 45 minutes between sessions: that meant that they could run less of them, but you didn’t have to kill yourself charging around and still find that you were too late to get a seat, and you could go to the bathroom or grab a bite to eat if necessary.

I started my 2016 Nine Worlds experience at 10am with a panel entitled “World-building: No One Sells Happy Life Day Cards”, which featured a group of fantasy and scifi authors talking about how they create their respective worlds and working out the nuts and bolts of what makes it all work, and why, and why it’s important to make your fantastical world seem plausible in the details. Then I moved onto “Getting Fighting Wrong”, which saw a group of authors talking about what makes a good fight scene and what makes a bad one. At 1.30pm I went to “Science Fiction and Science Fact”, where a group of scifi authors discussed how much of their work has a background in actual science, where they think you can get by with ignoring actual science and where there should probably be some background plausibility.

Now, as you can tell, I went to a lot of writing panels. This is because I want to get better at it, and a very good way of doing that is listening to people talk to have been doing it for longer, have more books out, and have been nominated (or won) awards.

After that panel I got very good news in the shape that my friend Blaise would be joining us at the last moment, a spur-of-the-moment decision on her part. Blaise and I engaged in a creative writing competition between ourselves a few years ago, a “first to get to five short stories published” one that did wonders for my output (we were ruling by acceptance rather than publishing date so I technically won, but the place that was going to publish my fifth story actually went under before it did so, so I guess maybe she won in the end…)

At 5pm I went to a panel called ‘Without Fear’ about the Young Adult subgenre, and whether it actually counts as a genre at all (the panel had differing opinions), then went down to the Friday afternoon pop-up market where Eleanor had been selling her various comics and merchandise (and doing very well with it, apparently).

After that it was time to get some food, having been coasting on a huge breakfast all day: then I met Blaise when she arrived in Hammersmith (it turned out she’d booked herself into the same “party hostel” as Eleanor, albeit a different dorm). Blaise and I then went to “Building Better Dreams & Nightmares” at 8.30pm, where a group of authors discussed how to avoid just retreading the same old monsters/aliens and where to get inspiration for new, original creations.

After that we all went to our respective beds, as we’d all had long, busy and tiring days in different ways. However, in my case at least, Saturday was going to be much, much more so…

Posted in Updates | Leave a comment

LONDON CALLING pt.1 – Thursday (Fantasy In The Court)

So the majority of the end of last week and the weekend was spent in London. Pull up a dalek, dear reader, while I recount the events. Bear with the length, for the events were many and the specifics (particularly towards the end of this entry) may be of interest.

Two years ago, in August 2014, my UK publisher Del Rey UK (now subsumed back into the parental embrace of Penguin Random House) took me to Fantasy In The Court, held at Goldsboro Books just off Leicester Square (one of my companions on that day was Django Wexler, whose fourth Shadow Campaigns novel The Guns of Empire I have just read in about seven hours and can heartily recommend, as with the rest of the series). One year ago, in August 2016, I went to Nine Worlds, my first ever convention.

This year, in August 2016, I went to both.

I travelled down to London on the Thursday, a daring descent from Nottingham to the very base of the M1 and then a trip around the North Circular Road before cutting up the A40 to places like Whitechapel, which you assume exist because they have a tube station but you never really think there’s actually anything there. I’m not fully convinced that anything within the M25 actually exists when someone isn’t looking at it, and I reckon that Watford might in fact be some sort of bastion against all that potential unreality sneaking out across eight lanes of traffic and infecting the rest of the country. I mean, I’m pretty sure somewhere like Mam Tor exists all the time, but Holborn? Not so much.

But anyway.

Nine Worlds was being held this year at Novotel London West in Hammersmith, and I’d managed to grab one of the “convention rate” rooms which meant that my stay would be considerably less expensive than if I’d try to stay in it at any other time. I’d even checked in online ahead of time so theoretically I could set my own arrival time rather than being bound to the tyranny of a 2pm check-in. I say “theoretically” because what actually happened was I arrived at 1.30pm and was told my room wasn’t ready yet because the hotel was completely full that weekend (of geeks) and that instead of ten or so online check-ins that day they had over sixty (geeks again – we’re wonders for doing things efficiently over the internet to minimise personal interactions). So I got into my room at about 2pm after all, then grabbed some food.

I then met up with Eleanor, who was my companion at Nine Worlds last year and this year was going to be exhibiting her Dragon Mouse (and friends) goods at the pop-up market on the Friday afternoon. A quick sidetrack: I LOVE Dragon Mouse. I have a knitted one, I have both of Eleanor’s comics, and I commissioned her to do a piece of custom artwork featuring him that I laminated and stuck on the door of my “study” (spare bedroom where I write, bite me). Dragon Mouse is one of the coolest things ever. Eleanor was also buzzing because after missing out on tickets to Harry Potter and the Cursed Child when they went on sale she had been offered a ticket by a friend only a few days before, for a performance taking place on the Saturday afternoon when she’d already planned to be in London anyway for Nine Worlds (please don’t send her envious/abusive messages). Eleanor was staying in a hostel just down the road where she said she was greeted with the information “If you come back after midnight you may want to use the side door” (so far, so expected) “because after 12 the ground floor is a nightclub” (not so expected). Eleanor agreed to come with me to Fantasy In The Court, and so off we went.

Fantasy In The Court was a weird experience last time I was there. For one thing, although I was there as An Author at the invitation of Del Rey UK, I hadn’t actually had a book published (and wouldn’t for nearly a year) so I was wandering around with a name tag on feeling a bit out of place. Also, the sheer amount of people packed into a small space made it very noisy and somewhat overwhelming for someone who’s hard of hearing anyway. That second part didn’t change this year, but at least I felt like I had some reason to be there since my books were actually on sale in the shop. I also met a bunch of other authors I’d either met previously or had interacted with over the internet: AJ Smith, author of the Long War series, whom I’d met two years before; Rob Boffard, author of the Outer Earth series, whom I once challenged to a fight over Twitter because our debut books came out at the same time and both had the words “In Space” on the cover (followed by different other words, but that’s not the point); Jen Williams, author of the Copper Cat Trilogy; Edward Cox, author of the Relic Guild series, whom I was introduced to on the night by Helena, whom I met at FitC two years ago when we ended up pressed next to each other as everyone sheltered inside from a torrential downpour; Jamie Sawyer, author of The Lazarus War, also represented by my agent Rob Dinsdale; Tom Pollock, who gracefully agreed to sign my copy of Our Lady Of The Streets; and Claire North/Kate Griffin/Katherine Webb, whose writing in the Urban Magic series is probably some of my favourite prose of all time, whom I’d met at a “kaffeeklatsch” at Nine Worlds last year, and who greeted me with a hug and a demand to know what my favourite swear word was (I think this was part of an ongoing conversation; I replied that it seemed unfair to the others to pick just one). I also remembered to tell her about Juliet d’Aubigny, although I’d forgotten the name (click the link: it’s worth your time).

The strangest thing of all was seeing how the wheels of publishing work, just a little bit. I met an editor and a publicist from a publisher (I won’t say which one), both of them female. When showing Eleanor and I the leaflet of authors whose books were going into the Nine Worlds goody-bags the editor observed “Hmm, we don’t seem to be publishing any women at the moment. We should probably change that.” Then she turned to Eleanor and said “Do you write at all?”

Now, I’m not thinking that had Eleanor said “Yes, I write epic fantasy” instead of “Well, I’m an independently-published comics artist” (and me finding pictures of her artwork on my phone) that it would have turned into a contract offer there and then, but it really opened my eyes to how this works. You have to think that had Eleanor been an aspiring author of some sort and she’d said “yes” that it would have turned into a conversation about her work, and if it had sounded at all interesting to the editor then something might have been said along the lines of “well, get in touch”. And that in itself means nothing if the work in question turns out to be rubbish (or even just okay), but never underestimate the importance of a personal connection. My agent noticed my work because I came recommended by Luke Scull, who had read some of it and whom I had given feedback to on his first novel before he’d even been signed by Rob, let alone by his publisher Head of Zeus. Sometimes just one thing – a personal meeting, a recommendation by a mutual friend – is all it takes to make you stand out in someone’s mind and get your work noticed as opposed to dropped on the submissions pile with all the others. And if you don’t believe me, listen to Jim Butcher: I’ve read an account from him before about how his first agent had previously rejected his work but then took him on after meeting him in person. When he asked her about what had changed, her response was something along the lines of “Well, that was before I’d met you”.

This, then, is the lesson to anyone wanting to break into being a mainstream published author: meeting an agent or a publisher in person won’t get you a deal by itself (especially if you’re an arsehole), but that interpersonal contact might just make you stick out the crowd a crucial amount. So it’s worth going to things like Fantasy In The Court, if something’s happening like that near you. Don’t stalk or harass people, obviously, out of general decency as well as the fact that it won’t help you, but publishing is not a meritocracy: not purely, at any rate.

The trouble is, of course, that so many of the sort of people (warning: incoming generalisation) who like fantasy and science fiction enough to write it may struggle with social interactions (see above about online check-ins).

Anyway, after Fantasy In The Court had wound down Eleanor and I made our way back to Hammersmith and went our separate ways, ready for the first round of Nine Worlds on Friday.

TO BE CONTINUED…

Posted in Updates | Leave a comment

TO LONDON!

It’s time to go to London for a long weekend of geekery!

To begin with I will be at Fantasy In The Court at Goldsboro Books just off Leicester Square on Thursday 11th. It runs from 6-9pm and will be your chance to come and mingle and chat with a whole bunch of scifi and fantasy authors (including me, but also more well-known names like Claire North/Kate Griffin, Mike Carey, Den Patrick etc). We’ll also sign anything you buy from the store. Tickets are £5 and I believe get refunded if you buy a book…

Then I will be at Nine Worlds from Friday! I’ll be going to various different panels and talks etc throughout the weekend, but if you want to see me Actually Doing Stuff then the schedule is as follows:

SATURDAY

6.45-7.45pm Beaujolais Suite

“EWOKS! A shameless commercial creation or the creatures that crushed an empire?”

8.43 (according to our very exact running schedule) Cremant Suite

BIFRÖST – The Cabaret: see me playing my acoustic guitar and singing two exceptionally geeky songs.

10.15pm-2am Cremant Suite

BIFRÖST – The Disco. I join forces with two other brave volunteers to play tunes until the early hours for your listening and dancing pleasure. Beware of the almost inevitable punk covers.

SUNDAY

2-2.45pm Chablis Suite (the Geekfayre Hall), Forbidden Planet stall

Signing session (alongside Gav Thorpe of Games Workshop/Black Library fame. Come for the Space Marines, stay for the space smugglers!)

 

SEE YOU THERE!

 

Posted in Updates | Leave a comment

Functional Nerds and a music video!

I was on Functional Nerds! Go listen to me being English and pausing a lot.

On the show we talk about my band Interplanetary Trash Talk’s music video!

Posted in Updates | Leave a comment