Back to School

Yesterday evening I found myself in an undergraduate literature class for the first time in more than twenty years, giving the lecture on Gemsigns that I mentioned here. The students were smart and engaged, and had insightful things to say and intelligent questions to ask. We had a wide-ranging discussion, which I thoroughly enjoyed; and I was delighted that so many of them spotted the references, literary and otherwise, that are tucked away here and there in the text. Hard work is meant to be its own reward, but there’s nothing like someone else’s appreciation of your efforts to remind you why it is you do what you do.

There was a moment, when they all came in and sat down and took their notebooks and copies of the novel out of their backpacks, that just about floored me. I remember being that student, coming into class and taking out the assigned text, ready for discussion. I never imagined, back then, that one day the book another bunch of bright young people would be tackling would be mine. I’m not even sure, back when I was a student in the School of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences at MIT, that any of the texts we studied were by living authors. Certainly none of them were sufficiently earthbound and available to have come in and talked to us. In a rather lovely irony, I find myself exalted by the experience of being an author who is and who did.

So many thanks again to Professor Tony Keen for asking me, and to his class at UND’s London Global Gateway for being such an interested, interesting bunch. I was very, very happy to be back in school.


(Further bonus: Tony was able to make the BSFA interview I did last year with Kate Keen available to the students as a resource, and I now have a copy of it: Stephanie Saulter BSFA Interview | 25 June 2014.)


Days of Christmas Future

I completed and submitted Regeneration, the 3rd book of the ®Evolution trilogy, a week ago. You would think that means I now have lots of time to attend to neglected things like social media updates and blogging, but oh no – because so much has been neglected over the past few weeks and months (company accounts! bills! VAT returns!) that I am racing to catch up before the end of December arrives and turns me into a pumpkin. Not to mention more pleasurable offline pursuits like friends in town for Christmas and other delights of the season. So for now I’m cheating by reposting a piece I wrote for the Jo Fletcher Books Christmas 2014 Advent Calendar about the significance of Christmas in Gemsigns. (Which means, incidentally, that if anyone out there’s looking for a very last-minute bookish gift idea that has some relevance to the the week we’re in … without necessarily being, y’know, a ‘Christmas Story’ in the traditional sense … Blackwell’s. Forbidden Planet. Foyles. Waterstones. And quite possibly an independent bookshop near you.)

Here you go. I will be back with something new and original soon … possibly on how it feels to have finished! writing! a trilogy! Until then, compliments of the season.

When is a Christmas story not a Christmas story?

I’ve been thinking about this on and off for a few years now, ever since I finished writing Gemsigns. Although the events of the novel lead up to and conclude on Christmas Day – a fact which is hugely significant within the narrative logic of the book – you would never know from the jacket blurb or the majority of the reviews that it has anything to do with Christmas.

That’s fair enough, as the narrative is not constructed to reinforce the traditional religiosity of the season, nor the contemporary commerciality with which we are all familiar. The novel is, however, very interested in the construction, interpretation and evolution of myth. Part of what I was interested in when I wrote it is how the founding mythologies and legends of a future civilisation might develop, and how the cultural standards with which we here in the twenty-first century are familiar might morph and shift and adapt themselves to new ways of thinking and being. I don’t buy the idea that ancient cultural touchstones and archetypes simply disappear under an avalanche of techno-advancement, or that they survive only as a sort of throwback primitivism. I think that in the same way the pagan festivals of the winter solstice and the spring equinox were co-opted and adapted into Christmas and Easter, these cyclical commemorations, these holy-days will adapt and evolve again. One of the many things I was trying to achieve with Gemsigns was an imagining of that sort of deep cultural evolution.

Gemsigns opens with a short introductory passage related by an omniscient narrator who speaks in the riddling, mythopoeic voice of legends, epics, and sacred texts:

When describing a circle one begins anywhere. Each step precedes and succeeds with no greater or less meaning: the tale they tell remains unvaried.

The narrator then tells of a hunted child fleeing unnamed but terrifying pursuers; an escape whose end is indeterminate. Told in the present tense, the subsequent context makes it clear that this incident has occurred in the story’s past, forming an in-the-beginning backdrop to a tale that unfolds in our future: in a London that has survived the apocalypse of a generational pandemic and the dystopia of the resulting slave state. The omniscient voice is gone now, for in the confusion that follows few people are sure of anything, and absolutely no one knows everything.

Day by day over a winter week, the reader witnesses events from the perspective of a range of characters who identify with different political, social, economic and, yes, religious camps. But it is only on the sixth of these days that the reader learns precisely which week they are witness to: for the sixth day, the day of reckoning, is Christmas Eve and the seventh day, the day of resolution, is Christmas.

Within the world of the story these commemorations are no longer the common knowledge of our own era. They are significant to some of the characters, and that significance drives their actions within the narrative, but they no longer matter to society as a whole. Christmas Eve and Christmas Day are historical artefacts, observed only by a minority and neither commercially nor socially important.

This is not, then, a Christmas story. Except it kind of is. Among its many characters and influencers are a small child of great significance to the world he inhabits, a powerful bureaucracy (and outlaw theocracy) who are threatened by what he represents, and a band of second-class non-citizens struggling to assert their own humanity and their right to the same freedoms, privileges and responsibilities as everyone else. Their ability to do so is both compromised and symbolised by their commitment to protect and cherish the child, whose existence has the potential to undermine the system under which they are oppressed.

The fact that these conflicts play out to their conclusion over Christmas was not merely for the convenience of the plot. I very consciously wanted to construct a new cultural paradigm within a science-fictional setting. Science fiction rarely, it seems to me, takes the past as seriously as it does the future (one could make the parallel argument that fantasy rarely takes the future as seriously as it does the past, but that is a subject for another essay); it rarely acknowledges how much of its future-world-building must perforce be influenced by the full depth and richness of what has gone before. I thought it would be interesting to use a holy-day of great historical and cultural significance for the unveiling of a new revelation; to take the date that gave us anno domini and from it launch a new era. What happens in Gemsigns at Christmas is what that day, in that possible future, will be remembered for.

This is not, of course, something that religious traditionalists – either within the world of the book or out here in the ‘real’ world – are likely to be pleased about. They generally cannot countenance the notion that the way people live and the things they believe can, must, should be constantly subject to question; subject to change. But I like to think that the legendary rebel whose life informed and whose death founded our own era, if he ever existed and was as good and brave a man as we imagine, would approve.

Sci Fi November: Two Dudes Interview

I’ve been interviewed for Sci Fi November by the Two Dudes in an Attic speculative fiction blog, following their earlier review of Gemsigns. The questions were interesting and thought-provoking; in fact they provoked so many thoughts that the interview was split in two! Both sections are now up (and they’re not that long, promise). I like it when the questions I’m asked let me talk about things that I think are important, and these did. Here’s part 1, and here’s part 2.

Many thanks to Andrea Johnson for inviting me to participate, and introducing me to the Two Dudes.

US Edition

US Edition

American ®Evolution: news from the front

Gemsigns drops in America today! That is to say, today’s the day it can be found on the shelves of bookshops or dispatched to you from your preferred online retailer (and if you pre-ordered the ebook it’s probably already sitting on your reader as I write this). I am very excited, and slightly nervous; I went to university in the States and spent well over a decade there afterwards, moving between Massachusetts, California and Florida. There’s no doubt that those years have hugely informed who I am, how I think and what I write; and although the ®Evolution novels are set in my current home city of London, it was in America that I first began to grapple with the issues they address. So in a strange way it feels as though I am sending some of those lessons and questions back home; and hoping they will find as welcome a reception as I did, when it was my home.

If the last few weeks are anything to go by I shouldn’t worry; the reviews so far have been excellent. I’ve also been invited to contribute articles on various topics to a number of blogs and webzines. Here are the most recent.

More Kids, Please | Bookworm Blues | 5 May 2014

Think about your own narrative. Whether or not you have kids, you’ll certainly remember being one. Didn’t you have constant interactions with the adults around you? Didn’t you think thoughts and have complex feelings and cause things to happen? Weren’t you a person then too?

Changing Stories: Social Media in Speculative Fiction | io9 | 5 May 2014

How can an immersive media environment inform literature – both in terms of the stories we tell, and the ways in which those stories are told? … I’d read little if anything that I thought really tried to engage the potential of social and mass media, as both plot and narrative devices, within a traditional literary form.

We Need Fiction To Tell The Truth | Special Needs in Strange Worlds | SF Signal | 6 May 2014

… a lot of the standard tropes around disability that we see in fiction – that it befalls someone who has done wrong, and can therefore be understood as a punishment; or that with the loss of a sense such as sight a new ability such as clairvoyance is gained, suggesting some kind of fair exchange; or that the witch/wizard/wise scientist has a miracle cure up their sleeve; or that the disabled person is so patient and saintly they don’t actually mind either the disability or the slings and arrows they suffer because of it; or, worst of all, that said disability is the only thing of significance about them – are the coping mechanisms employed by those of able body and sound mind. They are a way of reducing people to symbols in order to codify our own fear; a way of reframing a complex reality into a simple narrative.

(I’ll be updating this post as more pieces go live later today and over the next few days; there’s a comprehensive list under Press + Posts above.)

8 May 2014 – UPDATE:

Trusting the Future? Ethics of Human Genetic Modification | LiveScience Op-Ed | 6 May 2014

Evolution relies on the emergence of exceptions — no less when it comes to social change than to genetic mutation. The exceptions that become the rule over time are those that best respond to the environment in which they have arisen. And yet we are rarely more anxious than when we feel those boundaries start to shift, or more strident in demanding an uncomplicated moral framework within which to determine the way forward.

10 May 2014 – FURTHER UPDATE (or, it’s been a hell of a week and a new blog post is beyond me right now):

The Big Idea: Stephanie Saulter | Whatever | 9 May 2014

[The] metrics of humanity can prove tricky. What if that unconscious mental ideal happens to be constructed as a white person? Or a male person? Or a fit and healthy person whose physical capabilities fall within a statistically standard range? What does that imply for the perceived humanity of brown people, or female people, or people with different physiques and capabilities?


My Bookish Ways | Interview | 8 May 2014
Podcast: Interview | The Skiffy and Fanty Show | 7 May 2014
The Qwillery | Interview & Gemsigns giveaway | 7 May 2014


GEMSIGNS: US Edition Cover Reveal!

I was going to do another Gemsigns extract today, but that has been superseded by the news that – ta da! – the US cover is finally available for public viewing! (In fairness it’s been up on the Quercus US site for a while, but hadn’t been cleared for wider distribution.) Many thanks to the lovely folks over at SF Signal who splashed it up yesterday. So now I can do the same here, along with the full jacket copy:

US Edition

US Edition

For years a deadly syndrome that targeted adolescents threatened to decimate the human race, but a cure was ultimately developed by altering the human genome. The corporations that invented the cure then began to use the process to genetically engineer an entirely new class of workers. Known as Gems, these modified humans were physically and mentally adapted for jobs that could not be undertaken by normal human beings, and branded with a gemsign: glowing, neon-coloured hair or some other visible difference, engineered into their anatomy, forever setting them apart from the Norms they were bred to serve.

Now, decades later, the Gems are fighting for their rights, and for freedom from the companies that created them. As violence begins to threaten the severely stratified society, an international conference is scheduled to decide this critical civil rights issue once and for all. In advance of the conference, Dr. Eli Walker has been commissioned to gather detailed findings on the Gems. As an apolitical, nonpartisan figure in the debate, Walker’s analysis promises to be pivotal in deciding the fate of the Gems.

But with vast corporate profits at stake, and with the bloodthirsty religious zealots of the Godgangs determined to rid the earth of these “unholy” creations, the Gems are in a fight for their very lives against violent and powerful adversaries who will stop at nothing to keep them enslaved forever.

In terms of imagery and emphasis it’s a different approach to the one taken for the UK edition. I was part of the conversation in both cases, and I’ll be interested to see how it plays out in different markets and with different audiences. For the record, I don’t have a favourite – I really do love both sets of cover + copy. But I’d like to know if you prefer one over the other, and why!

By the way, clicking on the US edition in the sidebar will take you to the Amazon US purchase page – which, confusingly, is currently showing the  UK cover instead of the US one. I have no idea why, but I do know that the Quercus US team are in the process of sorting it out. (And of course, the UK editions link to the Amazon UK pages.)


P.S. More guest postage! While I’ve been writing this the ‘Story Behind the Story’ piece that I wrote for Upcoming4.Me has gone up. If you want to know what started the ®Evolution, check it out here. (Moral of the story behind the story: Keep your staff interested in the job at hand. Unless you want them to run off and become writers.)

GEMSIGNS extract: The Declaration


Declaration of the Principles of Human Fraternity

Agreed to be the shared and universal basis for national laws pertaining to all individuals, groups, civilisations and cultures

Issued by the United Nations, Tokyo, 21 December 130AS

The Peoples of the World, having passed through great calamity, and having secured the survival of our Species only by dint of certain manipulations and interventions, executed under direst emergency and with the willing participation and to the mutual benefit of all nations and races, now hereby declare and affirm these several Principles which all human beings, regardless of origin, nation, heritage, circumstance, condition, capability, conviction or disposition shall rightly and reasonably expect to form the foundation of the laws that shall govern our Societies and the rules, regulations and restrictions to which we shall in fellowship submit.

That it shall be the right of every human being:

First: To be at liberty from incarceration, except as properly and lawfully required for the detention of suspects, the punishment of the guilty and protection of the public.

Second: To be free and protected from unwarranted oppression, indignity, negligence or harm.

Third: Not to be required to provide labour or perform services without compensation.

Fourth: That movement, expression, association and employment shall not be unreasonably restricted.

Fifth: That property and possessions rightfully and lawfully acquired shall not be arbitrarily removed or reduced; but shall be subject to the reasonable and ordinary contributions required by the state, or as agreed under contract or for the settlement of accounts.

Sixth: That alterations, manipulations, procreation or reproduction of any individual, or utilisation of the cellular or genetic material of any individual, be subject always to the consent of said individual.

Gemsigns (UK paperback) , ch8, pp86-87

GEMSIGNS extract: Gabriel

The big news this week is Binary; but the Gemsigns paperback is also out in the UK on Thursday, and it’ll be published in hardback in the US in a month. Ahead of that the reviews from our American cousins are starting to come in, and I have been overwhelmed by the reactions so far. So in honour of readers like Bookworm Blues and the Little Red Reviewer, here’s a passage from the mind of the youngest protagonist:

He felt Papa look in on him from the kitchen, nod approvingly and step back to check on something in the oven. He didn’t look up. Papa was really good about letting him be, making sure Gabriel knew he was there but not interfering. They were relaxed with each other. Mama would always ask if he wanted something, get down on the floor to play with him or ruffle his hair as she passed. She worried he might not feel right if she didn’t, but really it was more for her than him. He could feel how happy she got when she held him in her arms, gave him a bath or read him a story. They both took care of him, but her need for it was more urgent and anxious than Papa’s.

Gabriel didn’t mind. Mama’s fierce love could be overwhelming, but it made him tingle with happiness. She was home a lot less so most of the time it was just him and Papa, in whose calm, steady affection it was easy to feel safe.

He knew they both worried about him, but they didn’t get scared the way his old parents had. He had a vague memory of the way the people he used to call Mummy and Daddy had flinched and tightened up their minds when he came into the room.

Everything else about them had almost completely faded away. He thought there might have been another place between that long-ago past and the bright present with Mama and Papa, but he wasn’t sure. There was a black space in his head, a yawning gulf of nothingness that lapped right up to the edge of his awareness, and everything on the far side of it was faint and fading. He couldn’t remember much from before Mama had pulled him out of the rubbish and brought him home.

– Gemsigns (UK paperback), ch4, pp48-49


Books and parties and conventions and prizes and … Calabash!

If you’ve been keeping up with me on Twitter you’ll know that I’ve mostly been having a good week. The only real fly in my ointment at the moment has been the discovery that the Scriptopus website is down, and that the company that’s been hosting it is one of the most unprofessional organisations I’ve had the displeasure of encountering in quite some time. It’s frustrating of course, and I’m a bit surprised to find myself not more angry and upset. But while some of the content may be lost, the source code is safely backed up; and if the host can’t restore it I will relaunch it somewhere safer and saner; and I have got so many happier things to think about  

On Tuesday I received my author copies of the Binary trade (TPB) and the Gemsigns mass-market paperback (MMP) editions, both out in the UK on 3rd April. Does ripping open a cardboard box to find bound books with beautiful covers full of the words that you wrote ever get old?

2 weeks to publication!

2 weeks to publication!


I doubt it. There are no posted reviews of Binary yet – at least none that I know of – but it’s in the hands of reviewers,  a couple of whom have tweeted their early reactions. I am cautiously optimistic.

Tuesday evening was the Clarke Award shortlist announcement party, which was great fun; many congratulations to the shortlisted authors (and many thanks to the kind folks who tipped me to be one of them – even though I wasn’t, the fact that you thought I might have been meant a great deal).

Still on the subject of prizes: on Thursday Jo Fletcher Books posted a list of their Hugo-award-eligible publications and Campbell-award-eligible authors. To be honest I’d given very little thought to either of these; I tend to think that if your book isn’t out in America (and mine isn’t until May), you don’t have much of a shout. But Gemsigns and I are there for your consideration, along with many other wonderful books and first-time authors, and a reminder that the nomination deadline is 31st March.

I’ve also been communicating with the Satellite4 organisers about panels and readings; there’s going to be some very good stuff at this year’s Eastercon in Glasgow, and I hope to see many of you there. 

But with the Binary TPB and Gemsigns MMP publication date only a couple of weeks away, I’ve been mostly preoccupied with getting ready. That’s meant a long overdue update to this website (cover shots and purchase links in the sidebar! actual descriptions of the novels under the Novels tab!), and to bios and avatars around the web more generally. I’ve been busiest of all with guest posts and interviews: over the next few weeks I’ll be popping up in a variety of places, including Civilian Reader, Upcoming4.Me, SF Signal, Little Red Reviewer, and

And I’ve been waiting on an announcement. Not an award or shortlist this time, but the official launch of the Calabash International Literary Festival in Jamaica in May. It’s been in my Upcoming Events for ages, but I couldn’t pre-empt the organisers by saying more – despite knowing enough to be very excited. So the first of my series of guest posts to go live is the last one I wrote –  SF in’a Calabash, composed this morning on the back of last night’s launch. If you never follow another link from this blog please, follow that one. It’s something I am very very proud to be part of.  

A list of lists

I’ve been kept warm and cozy by all the lovely mentions of my books on people’s best-of and most-looking-forward-to lists over the past few weeks. It’s been a wonderful end to a remarkable year, and I am more honoured and grateful than I can say. One of the things I use this blog for is to keep track of memorable moments in my writing life; so here is my list of lists. THANK YOU ALL.

Favourite 2013 Debuts | A Fantastical Librarian

Best Books of 2013 | Reviewers Choice | Liz Bourke

Best Debuts of 2013 | Shadowhawk’s Shade

The Pleasures of Reading, Viewing & Listening in 2013 | Ambling Along the Aqueduct | Cheryl Morgan

The Best of 2013 | Over the Effing Rainbow

Best Covers of 2013 | Shadowhawk’s Shade

The Year That Was | Sleepless Musings

Anticipated Science Fiction & Horror (Winter-Spring) 2014 | A Fantastical Librarian

Most Anticipated Books of 2014 | Shadowhawk’s Shade

And of course, the first two lists that kicked off my personal season of joy:

Best Science Fiction of 2013 | The Guardian

BSFA Awards 2013: Nominations so far | BSFA

UPDATE 3 Jan 2014:

Anticipated Books 2014 | The Book Plank

UPDATE 7 Jan 2014:

Books to Look Out For | Sleeps With Monsters |

UPDATE 8 Jan 2014:

MIND MELD: Our Favorite SF/F/H Consumed in 2013 | SF Signal

‘Tis the season of lists …

I was rather lazily reading Adam Roberts‘ Guardian roundup of the best science fiction books of 2013 after dinner last night, and damn near choked on the dregs of my wine … did a double-take … triple-take … no, nothing funny in the glass (I checked) nor wrong with my eyes (no more than usual, anyway). There was Gemsigns, sharing column inches with the likes of Margaret Atwood and Stephen King, Lauren Beukes and Lavie Tidhar, mega-seller Hugh Howey and Booker winner Eleanor Catton. Among others too numerous and luminous to mention. I am amazed and grateful to be in such company. And I’m particularly thrilled, because it was clear when Adam read the book a few months ago – and as he also indicates in the article – that it didn’t work for him right away; but, as he says, ‘it has proved a grower.’ I love that. I love that a book which is so much about perception and persuasion, the ways in which people’s ideas about what is wrong and right and good and bad can shift and shift again, has had in the real world the effect it describes in an imaginary one. The synergy of that delights me. So thank you, Adam, for letting my book grow on you; and for including it on your list.

The other pleasant list-related surprise of the evening was this BSFA blog post with the best-of-2013 nominations so far: best non-fiction, best artwork, best short fiction, best novel. Once again there was Gemsigns, keeping company with some truly wonderful books. I’ve no idea who nominated it, or even if it was more than one – but whoever you are, thank you. Nominations remain open until mid-January and it’s already up against some very big hitters, so I have no expectations beyond the nomination itself – but then I wasn’t expecting that. I am in ‘you never know’ territory at the moment. It’s great.

  • I love stories.
    My new novel, Sacred, is all about them. Publication info will be posted as soon as I have it.

    In the meantime check out Gemsigns, Binary and Regeneration, available wherever good books are sold.

  • Upcoming Events

    No upcoming events

  • Latest tweets

  • Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

    Join 1,079 other subscribers
  • UK edition


    The 3rd Book of the ®Evolution

  • UK edition


    The 2nd Book of the ®Evolution

  • UK Edition


    The 1st Book of the ®Evolution

  • US Edition


    The 3rd Book of the ®Evolution

  • US Edition


    The 2nd Book of the ®Evolution

  • US Edition


    The 1st Book of the ®Evolution

  • Meta

%d bloggers like this: