FantasyCon here I come

I’m off to FantasyCon in Brighton on Friday morning. My first ever genre convention, and I’m not entirely sure what to expect. I never felt moved to go to them as a reader; I never really understood how my enjoyment of fantastic fiction was going to be increased by propping up the bar next to a costumed stormtrooper. Or an orc. One of the interesting things about becoming a writer, though, is that you find yourself having a different, and often more democratic, perspective on things. Could I, in my wildest dreams, dare to hope that one day I might go to a convention where fans dress up as characters I created? It’s very, very, very unlikely – I’ve got a better chance of being hit by lightning in this unseasonably stormy September weather – but all of a sudden it seems less a questionable eccentricity and more like the ultimate accolade.

Plus there are the educational and community aspects. I don’t feel like I’ve really found my feet yet – this whole first-book-about-to-be-published, struggling-through-the-second-book, is a weird experience. It’s so different to my former life. It seems to be going well, but how can you tell? What do you compare it to? I don’t know anybody else who does this for a living. I don’t even know if I do it for a living, or if it’s just a strange, fortuitous little bubble of time, in which I get to live my fantasy life of being a writer for a few months, maybe a year or two, before the money runs out and the books don’t sell well and I have to go back to having a proper, full-time job. Back in the real world.

So roll on FantasyCon. There’ll be pundits and publishers, bloggers and fans. But I’m particularly looking forward to meeting other writers – both published and aspiring, those who can do it for a living and those who do it purely for love. With any luck I’ll get some tips and tricks for dealing with the ups and downs, the disappointments and reversals (and – who knows? – maybe even the successes) to come. I want to know if I’m the only one finding their second novel problematic and intimidating in a way the first one never was. If I’m alone in swinging from the elation of a perfect paragraph at noon to the despair of garbled dialogue at midnight. In short, I’m hoping for the reassurance, the camaraderie, of like minds.

And maybe even an orc or two.


Gemsigns it is, and a really cool cover

Now that I’ve caught up on my sleep and had a natter with the neighbours about the appalling weather, some news! I pitched up at my publisher’s office on Tuesday and was whisked away to lunch by the lovely Jo Fletcher herself, with my agent and Jo’s editorial assistant and publicity director in tow. I knew I was going to get an update on how the cover art was coming along; I didn’t know they were going to whip out, oh a dozen or so, iterations of the cover of my book!

Complete with title: we’re all really happy with Gemsigns (so kudos to editorial assistant Nicola Budd for the typo that turned it from just ‘okay’ into ‘ooh, cool!’ There are some very good accidents in life.) Complete with my name, obviously, but I still had a moment of shock seeing it there, a thrill up the spine, a sense of surreality. Blimey. I did that.

The cover itself was also a surprise; it wasn’t what I was expecting, although I don’t know what I was expecting. I’d had a rant early on about how repetitive cover art gets, especially in the SFF world; I do not want to bring yet another bloodied hero with a broken broadsword on a blasted battlefield into the house, nor am I any longer intrigued by sleek spaceships illuminated by lasers/phasers/whatever against a backdrop of endless night. Not that any of those visual tropes could even remotely be applied to Gemsigns, but I didn’t want it to be bland and noncommittal either. Give me something that looks designed, I said, something striking, something different.

Boy, did they ever.

All the versions were variations of the same basic idea. Four or five I discarded immediately, to sighs of relief; I just disliked them, the professionals had already judged them a bit too YA.  It took a few seconds longer to discard the next round, and the next, as the distinctions became more subtle; but in very short order we were down to The One. Which is hard, and alluring, and mysterious, and doesn’t look like anything else I’ve seen in quite some time.

Oh, and red. It’s very red.

The picture I took with my phone has been resoundingly approved by friends, but I can’t share it here just yet. Once the required tweaks are made (slightly heavier lines on the title font, a little more shading here, a little less there) and the final final version is approved, bright shiny PDFs will be dispatched for posting. I can’t wait.

I’m going to be published! I’m going to be published!

Well, I’ve given it away with the headline, haven’t I?

The radio silence for the past several weeks has been because I wasn’t yet allowed to talk about the only thing I wanted to talk about: the fact that I’d received an offer from a publisher, not just to publish the novel I’ve already written – which would have been unbelievably amazing in itself – but to publish three books. That’s right, the one I’ve written plus two more I haven’t. Yet. I am now in possession not only of a Book Deal, but of Book Deadlines.

That’s fine. I can do deadlines. I’ve just about managed to come to terms with the fact that my book, my baby … which started several years ago with a fleeting mental image, which generated a concept, which grew into an idea, which then acquired characters and a narrative, but which still got written more-or-less by accident only last year … is going out into the world next spring, there to stand or fall on its own 400+ pages. I’m still a bit gobsmacked by that. I thought I’d get it out of the house eventually, but so soon? It’s a big enough thing to wrap your head around that once you have done, the thought of having to provide it with a sibling a year for the next couple of years is not actually as daunting as it probably should be.

Because, as my prescient (and proficient) agent Ian Drury foresaw during our very first meeting, my little 2011 writing project has become the lead novel of a science fiction trilogy; and as predicted in my Working Title post (written before any of this happened, I swear), the name of the novel as of this writing remains unconfirmed. Its original title, ®Evolution, will become the name for the series. (Although poor Ian has, I think, been calling it the Morningstar trilogy at London Book Fair, given how undecided it all is, and Morningstar being the name of a key character – but it’ll be the ®Evolution trilogy, or saga, or chronicles, or something. I promise.) Book One has for the moment been rechristened Gemsign, and I’ll be posting lots more about it in the months to come.

For now, many many thanks to Ian and to my (brand new!) publisher Jo Fletcher Books for their enthusiasm for the figments of my imagination, and their faith in my ability to keep on making stuff up. I’m in good hands; JFB is the science fiction/fantasy/horror imprint of Quercus, 2011’s Publisher of the Year. (No, I don’t know what you have to do to be Publisher of the Year. I’m assuming it includes Selling Lots of Books and Being Nice to Authors.)

Oh, that reminds me. I’m an author now. Officially.

Working title

A few fellow travellers in the online community have asked the title of my recently-completed novel – so that they can spot it when it arrives in their local bookshop. Charmed though I am by the sweet confidence of this request (of course it’ll get published, of course it’ll end up in a Waterstones or Borders somewhere near you … do you know what the odds are, people?!), I remain unsure of whether or how to respond. That’s because while I know what I call it, it’s not at all certain that a publisher will want to stick with my moniker. I sympathise. At this point I’m not even sure I want to stick with it, for reasons that will become clear. But I do need to respond, maybe spread the dilemma around a bit. Here goes.

To tell this story properly I should start at the beginning, with a quote from the 1967 preface to The Book of Imaginary Beings by the incomparable Jorge Luis Borges:

“We are ignorant of the meaning of the dragon in the same way that we are ignorant of the meaning of the universe, but there is something in the dragon’s image that fits man’s imagination …”

That struck me when I first read it several years ago as a wonderfully elegant metaphor for what it is we do when we read and when we write – we take something completely invented, and from it try to extrapolate a recognisable truth. When I started writing my novel almost a year ago I knew I didn’t know what to call it yet, so I filed those earliest drafts as The Meaning of Dragons. I suspect I will use this again and again, as an obtuse but portentous working title, until I know what it is I’m really writing about.

As happened with the current novel. Ten thousand words or so in I had the principle characters, events and narrative arc, and had set the various parallel plotlines off and running. I knew what it was, and I had a new working title that actually captures what the story is about: ®Evolution. Yep, you got it. The book is about a revolution in terms of an upheaval; and revolutions in terms of repeating cycles of events; and the artificially engineered evolution of the human species by massively powerful corporations for equally massive financial gain. The circle around the ‘R’ to create the commercial registration mark both tells you there’s a mercantile imperative at work, and subtly hints at an orbit, the sense of something revolving. I wasn’t sure at first, but as the chapters rolled past and the story took on the weight and heft of truth, it felt right. I was writing about the ®Evolution.

The problem, of course, is that it’s a visual quip. The triple entendre only works when it’s read, not spoken. Say it out loud and you lose two-thirds of the meaning. Plus, verbalised it’s no longer unique. As my agent put it, there’s a lot of revolutions out there.

Had I thought of any alternative titles? Just, you know, in case.

So, I’ve been trying to. It’s been tough. I’m committed to the ®Evolution. But having had to think about a potential two more books to follow the first has helped, because now I can envisage them as a sequence of stories which together would chronicle the ®Evolution. I could make it the omnibus title instead of the name of one particular novel.

On the off chance that that’s how it pans out, the title of my first book might end up being Gemsign, which also encapsulates many of the key elements of the story. And before you ask, I’m not going to even begin to explain the significance of that word to you – not yet, anyway. Feels like tempting fate. When I know it’s really on the way to a bookshop near you, I’ll tell you what it means.

By which time, it might be called something else.

From an agent, agency

I now have an agent. A literary agent. Someone who thinks my novel is good enough to sign me up and try to sell it. Someone who thinks my writing and characters and storyworld are good enough, in fact, to ask me to sketch out ideas for another two. Just in case a publisher might be interested in buying not only the one I’ve written, but a couple more I haven’t. (Apparently this can happen, even to new writers. Who knew?)

It’s difficult to describe just how seismic this feels. And how sudden. The Chronicle of the Writer is supposed to be a long, dusty, desolate journey, punctuated by rejection, fraught with self-doubt, seasoned with the salt of inky tears. You’re supposed to take at least a couple of years to write the thing, a few more to polish the manuscript and your courage, before you set forth into a hostile wilderness where no one reads your submission or returns your calls or – heaven forfend – wants to represent you. And I had already cheated; while the idea that became the book had been slowly developing in the back of my brain for several years, with occasional eureka moments as parts of the whole came clear, I only started properly writing it last April. I finished in October. Even though it was about as good as I thought I could make it without the services of a professional editor, when I sent it out in early January I still had the uneasy feeling of being way, way, way ahead of schedule.

So I was all set to get knocked back, as custom dictates, and indeed a few rejections had started to trickle in. But then I got a request for the full manuscript, and within a week the offer, from a publishing veteran no less. It all feels a bit miraculous. So now, of course, my innate superstition (which I claim not to have but which, let’s face it, we all have to some degree) is kicking in. Surely I can’t dodge my period in purgatory. Things can’t keep going quite so incredibly well. Can they?

Well, maybe they can. Because I’ve spent the weekend thinking about those other two books – setting out possible scenarios, core themes, central conflicts. Writing them up for my agent. Before, although I had created a world sufficiently complex and populated to generate many more stories, I had barely allowed myself to contemplate them. Now I’ve been given leave and licence to do just that. The stories are starting to take shape. Not only have I secured an agent; I have also, through some strange hoodoo, acquired agency.

Maybe I skipped a couple of steps to get here. So what? I’m looking at it this way – whatever time I don’t have to spend in the Slough of Submission, I get to spend writing. That can only be a good thing.


Neil Gaiman on Lewis, Tolkien and Chesterton

I know, I know. Another post that’s actually not mine. I’ve been busy, honest. And it’s Neil Gaiman, and it is, as always, brilliant. I don’t know Chesterton as well as I should, but he speaks for me on Lewis and Tolkien.

Goodreads | Neil Gaiman’s Blog – A speech I once gave: On Lewis, Tolkien and Chesterton – January 25, 2012 23:23.

An MIT Physicist Makes God the Main Character of His Novel

Ok, reposting an article about someone else’s writing instead of finishing the piece I started earlier about my own is probably a bit of a cheat. But MIT is my alma mater, and a novel about physics, faith and music sounds right up my street. I can’t wait to read it.

An MIT Physicist Makes God the Main Character of His Novel – Heather Horn – Entertainment – The Atlantic.


On becoming a writer

I’m a writer.  I never used to say that out loud, and it still sounds strange and new to me. Which is odd, because I have written and written and written, for years and years and years. Oh, it never said so on a business card. Those always said Manager of this, Director of that. Executive. Consultant. Different responsibilities, different industries even. But all of them, without exception, required thinking about things, and the coherent organisation of those thoughts into a narrative, and the writing down of that narrative. Marketing copy, reports, proposals, policies, strategies. Not as boring as it sounds, and it pays the bills, and I’m good at it.

But the really interesting stuff was always … the other stuff. Scribbled down randomly, irregularly, almost in secret. In the last five minutes before falling asleep, or between appointments. Half an hour’s jolting ride on a train, pen skipping and juddering across a poem or an essay or an imagined conversation. A weekend, maybe, spent in pyjamas, lost in an idea, a marathon effort to get – it – down before time and mental space ran out.

Gradually, more of this. More time, commitment, more of a need for it. As with so much else it turns out the more you do, the more you can do. So weekends become weeks, weeks become months. Verses become poems, a snatch of dialogue morphs into a screenplay. An idea, a strange, shapeless notion about an inexplicable character in an unthinkable circumstance reveals itself as a novel. And that has turned out to be the most powerful experience yet. You become omnipotent, layering slivers of reality onto a foundation of whim, until the world inside your head feels as complex as the one outside.

There’s no going back after that. I’m a writer. Here I am.

  • 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.

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