Calabash Highlights & Conde Nast

The Calabash Literary Festival gets a five-page spread in Conde Nast Traveller! Worth a read, and if you’re wondering, yes: I am one of the distant figures soaking up Red Stripe and sunshine on a rickety driftwood platform in the middle of the ocean. I put in a slightly more dignified appearance on the festival’s highlight reel, which captures a few moments of my reading from Binary, and I talked about some of my personal highlights in this post.

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I’m back in London, which, while not as hot as Jamaica, certainly feels more stifling. It might be the lack of a sea breeze, or the fact that buildings here are designed to keep the heat in rather than vent it out. And while I’m over the jet lag, I seem to have traded it for hay fever – according to my sinuses, every plant in these isles is bursting with pollen. Ah well: a fruitful year all round. Though if I don’t want my redoubtable editor Jo Fletcher to start chasing me with a stick I need to get myself into writing mode, sharpish. Which means less time on social media (the greatest aid to procrastination ever invented).

I do, however, have a mini-treat for those of you who haven’t been in the Caribbean this summer: a few pictures from the Calabash International Literary Festival weekend, about which I blogged last week.

Looking ahead, if you’re in London and not otherwise engaged on the evening of Wednesday 25th June, do come along to the BSFA’s monthly get together at the Artillery Arms pub on Bunhill Row, where I’ll be interviewed by the lovely Kate Keen. Entry is free, and for a paltry few pence you have a chance to win books! (Which will, this month, include a copy of the rather handsome US hardback edition of Gemsigns.) I’ll also be chatting to the folks at Holdfast Magazine for an upcoming issue. More on that later, and other odds and ends as I have them …

Post-Calabash post

The Calabash International Literary Festival 2014 has been over for going on four days now, and I am not yet quite recovered. From the welcome dinner for authors and press last Thursday night; to the Friday morning boat trip to Pelican Bar; to the opening of the Festival proper that evening with an emotional reading of Maya Angelou’s seminal Still I Rise; to Saturday’s packed programme that featured Zadie Smith, Colum McCann, Salman Rushdie, Karen Lord, and … umm … me; to Sunday’s mellow musical wind-down, followed by another sumptuous farewell meal – it was, in a word, amazing. Calabash accomplishes something that few other literary festivals or genre conventions achieve, or even attempt: a true meeting of creative minds, a bridging of the gap between ‘mainstream’ and ‘genre’, a celebration of the full breadth and depth of literary ambition and experience.

These were just a few of my personal highlights:

  • The prominence of poetry: Scottish poet Rab Wilson brought the house down before reading a single verse, when he opened his set by coming to the front of the seaside stage with a camera and taking a picture of the audience. ‘This,’ he said, in the broadest of Scottish brogues, ‘is to prove to the folks at home that more than ten people came to a poetry reading.’ He wasn’t wrong. The marquee held, by my estimate, over a thousand seats and was at least as packed for poetry as for prose. Co-founded by a poet and a novelist, Calabash values both forms equally. So does its audience.
  • Meeting Marlon James: Some of you out there already know how much I admire this author. Ann Morgan took up my recommendation of his first novel, John Crow’s Devil, as the Jamaican book for her A Year of Reading the World project, and loved it as much as I did. His second, The Book of Night Women, was visceral, searing, and will stay with me forever. But sometimes the people whose work you admire are less than captivating in person; so I’m happy to report that Marlon is every bit as smart, articulate, keenly observant and ruthlessly down to earth as I could have wished.
  • Hanging with Karen Lord: I’d met Karen early in May, for the Women in Science Fiction panel organised by our mutual publisher Jo Fletcher Books. We didn’t manage more than a brief conversation then, followed by another, longer one a week or so later (in the course of recording a podcast on Caribbean science fiction for The Skiffy and Fanty Show) – both of which only made me want to get to know her better. Her award-winning first novel Redemption in Indigo is a genre-bending delight, and The Best of All Possible Worlds one of the more interesting, unusual and thematically ambitious science fiction novels of recent years. She is fiercely intelligent, great fun to be with, and passionate about her work. I’m already looking forward to our next meeting.
  • Hearing Zadie Smith: I don’t know quite what I expected; something a bit cerebral and detached, perhaps? Instead Smith’s reading from The Embassy of Cambodia was surprisingly warm, unexpectedly funny, and quietly tragic.
  • Science fiction by the sea: Chris John Farley read, and then Karen Lord read, and then I read. For almost half an hour each; my longest reading yet, to by far the largest audience I think any of us had ever had. Who were, in a word, wonderful. I somehow managed not to lose my place, glancing up as one does to check that you’ve got their attention, that they’re not trickling out the exits or looking blankly back at you. Instead they were rapt, listening, concentrating – hundreds and hundreds of people, leaving their world behind to travel with you into yours. ‘You can’t have empathy without imagination,’ festival co-founder and impresario Kwame Dawes pointed out when he introduced us, ‘and this is literature of the imagination.’ They got it. You know how rare it is to see imagination working its way through a sea of faces? Rare. Thank you, Calabash, for that very great gift.
  • Listening to Salman Rushdie: Who was warm and witty and wise; who talked about culture and diaspora and conflicting influences; who read a sex scene set, uproariously and appropriately, amid sacks of pepper; who commented on tracks by Elvis Presley and Lou Reed and his own lyrics sung by U2; who described the sea of stories as the Caribbean glinted and shifted behind him; who discussed and dismissed literary pigeonholing; who was, in short, everything you would hope from a literary lion and a speaker of truth.
  • Conversations! With the aforementioned Marlon and Karen; Olivia Cole and Paul Holdengraber; Adam Mansbach and Miasha; Paul Muldoon, Kwame Dawes, Chris John Farley. About concerns both tangible and thematic; personal histories and world affairs; adventures in publishing and the challenges of academia; literary experiments, cultural quirks, conceptual leaps. ‘The conversations,’ festival worker Drew Brennan confided to me, ‘are my favourite part.’ No wonder. Calabash fosters a kind of intellectual yoga: a stretching and strengthening and expansion of the faculties. Utterly brilliant.

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 Tor.com.

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.  

Coming soon: Transatlantic Pre-Publication Promotional Frenzy. Also: new home!

Success is its own reward, or perhaps its own punishment. Since I last mused about story-writing, I’ve done anything but. I barely put fingers to keyboard for the past week, while I moved out of the friend’s flat I’ve been sharing for the past few months and into one of my own. I can remember when this wouldn’t have required more than a half-day or so of unpacking and sorting, but in the years since then I have accumulated a truly astonishing amount of Stuff. And if you think fitting the contents of a rambling three-storey barn conversion into the compactness that is a London flat sounds like a challenge, well, you’d be right.

But it’s done and I’m in; pictures are up on the walls and books, most importantly, are back on the shelves. And not a moment too soon: I’ve got lots of lovely people asking me to do lots of writerly stuff, all due to the fact that I have two books coming out in the next two months. One of which is already out. Confused? Bear with me.

Binary drops in the UK and Commonwealth on 3rd April*, and Gemsigns gets its North American release in May. And because the Americans need things Americanised, that meant I had the American copy edit, and then typeset, to review in February; not to mention different cover art to comment on and cover copy to check. Welcome to the wonderful world of global publishing.

(Lest that sound like a whinge, let me stress that the Quercus US team are a delight to work with, and the approach they’ve taken for the US cover and copy is fantastic; much as I love the UK cover of Gemsigns, I have to confess that the US version is at least as good. Maybe better. I’ll be doing a reveal as soon as they let me, and then you, People of the Interwebs, can decide.)

As you might suspect, all of this means there’s going to be just a wee bit of a promotional jamboree happening over the next month or three. I’ll be cropping up in various places online, on both sides of the pond (and in May I cross the pond for real, to read at the Calabash Literary Festival). I’ll post links here to stuff happening elsewhere, and there’ll be some bespoke writing for this site as well; but the growing list of interview and guest post requests makes me think that much of what I planned to talk about on my own blog will turn into conversations in other locations. I’ll put up the signposts, and I hope you’ll join in.

§

*Note to reviewers: Binary is available on NetGalley for another week.

  • 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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