Yes, I know I’m late

This post is about five days late. I should have written it last Saturday, a bleary-eyed morning after the night before, to report on the Friday launch party for myself and fellow debut author Naomi Foyle at the Phoenix Artist Club. The Phoenix is a wonderfully funky venue in the basement of the eponymous theatre, on the corner of Phoenix Street and the cacophony of the Charing Cross Road. As someone said at the time, it’s the kind of place where you almost wish they had made an exception to the smoking ban; it feels like it should be blanketed in a fug of aromatic combustibles, through which famous figures are dimly glimpsed in scandalous liaisons, or slouched against the bar. (But we’re glad they didn’t, because the unromantic truth is that we would have exited early, coughing and smelling like the back of a lorry.)

As it was, we had a great evening. Loads of our friends came, along with fellow authors, bloggers and industry folk; Jo Fletcher, Ian Drury and Nicola Budd held court. Stories were told, books were sold, and a great deal of wine was drunk. As usual I was very remiss about taking pictures, but my friend Iris was thankfully more diligent.

So here’s me signing and talking about Gemsigns with Cherryl:

Launch: Stephanie with Cherryl









And here’s Jon carrying the booty:

Launch: Jon with books










Cherryl and Jon are two of my ®Evolution Readers, the guinea pigs who let me foist the first draft upon them and thereby became alpha readers and first critics. Many of the others made it too: Anna, Alison, Joady, Rachel and Matt were all there. So were fellow authors Jaine Fenn and Snorri Kristjansson, old friends Nicole and Natalie, Jon (the other Jon) and Matt (the other Matt), and new friend Siobhan (who I met at Eastercon) along with her husband Nev. Many, many thanks to them and to everyone else who came.

So a great time was had by all, though the level of inebriation was hardly enough to explain my lateness in posting; no, that was down to heading off early the next morning to the studio of photographer Frederique Rapier, who took great shots of my brothers Storm and Nile and their New Caribbean Cinema partner Michelle Serieux when the three visited last year to screen their films at the BFI. I need better headshots than the DIY profile I’ve been using (the reason will become clear when The News I’m Not Allowed to Share is shared). Look out for a far better picture of me premiering on this blog soon (and don’t be surprised if when we meet I don’t look nearly that good in person). Then I headed into the West End to check out a piece of intel I’d gotten at the party: that Gemsigns was starting to appear on the shelves of some shops that we’d thought weren’t going to stock it. And – it is! Cue happy dancing among the stacks and snapping and tweeting. And a very late lunch and a spot of shopping, and that was it for Saturday.

Sunday was supposed to be a quick and easy train ride home to Devon, but here disaster struck; not me, I’m happy to say, but after sitting immobile on the tracks for close to an hour somewhere around Ealing, we were sent back to London with the tragic news that someone had been struck by the train a mile or two ahead of us. Generally a delay of more than two hours, with crowds of people packing out Paddington as no trains moved in or out, would result in loud and aggressive complaining and much harassment of staff; but there was none of that. Looking around I could see that we were all thinking about the person who’d been killed, and very aware that whatever inconvenience we were experiencing was nothing next to the anguish of that unknown person’s family and friends. My heart goes out to them, whoever they are.

So home very late, and appointments and grocery shopping and emails to respond to on Monday, and back to work on Binary … and a cold that came out of nowhere, grabbed me by the throat (literally – it’s one of those it-hurts-to-swallow colds) and has pretty much flattened me for the past couple of days. Work is getting done, but not at pace.

However! I’m feeling a bit better today, I’ve finished the review/rough edit of the draft so far, and have a good sense of the shape the final chapters need to take. I’ve also spotted some of the more obvious bits that need fixing, which will spare me the embarrassment of having Jo or Nicola point them out. So, late or not, things are going well and that particular finish line is in sight. Blogging may suffer a bit, but one has to prioritise …


On Buying Books and Being Published

It’s time to use that handy little Press This widget and link to some recent bloggage elsewhere. First here’s Jo Fletcher on why she joined the ®Evolution (or if you want to be prosaic about it, why she bought Gemsigns and commissioned Binary and Gillung):

Why did I buy that book? Jo Fletcher on Gemsigns | Jo Fletcher Books.

And then there’s me, on what becoming a published author actually felt like:

On being published by Stephanie Saulter | Jo Fletcher Books.

I’m writing lots of posts for the Jo Fletcher Books blog this month; I’ll either repost them here, or link as above. If I mention something you want to know more about, do please ask!

Lost in translation

I’ve been extremely absent from the blog- and Twitter-spheres lately, due to a perfect storm of various seasonal maladies (hack, cough), a jaunt to London for a restorative dose of culture and companionship, and a bit (not enough) of writing. All hope of completing the first draft of Binary before the end of the year has been blown away on a bitter north wind, but at least Gemsigns is shipshape and ready to go to print. But sadly, as of yesterday it’s been confirmed that it will emerge without one line that I had really, really hoped to be able to include. Longtime readers of this blog might remember a reference I made, way back when publication was just a vague hope on the horizon, to a phrase that served as inspiration both for the story and its first working title. Well, I wanted to acknowledge the importance of that phrase, and honour the author, by using it as an epigram in Gemsigns; and I am sorry to report that after many months of chasing the necessary permissions I have had to admit defeat. But not for the reasons you might think. Along the way I’ve received an intense education on the legal complexities of licensing another’s work for reference in one’s own, particularly when different territories and publishers are involved. However, despite navigating all the contractual issues more-or-less successfully, the decision to drop it was, in the end, an aesthetic one – though deeply instructive of the commercial forces to which even the most creative of legacies is subject.

As my agent remarked, it’s no bad thing if the wider world knows what goes into getting a book from script to publication; and as my wise and wonderful publisher Jo Fletcher has already blogged eloquently and at length about exactly what happened, I’m going to repost hers here. I can’t bear to write it all up again.

This week, Beloved Reader, we are going to talk about epigrams. (There: I can see how excited you are, and all I have done is written the word.) For the avoidance of doubt, an epigram is a pithy saying or remark which expresses an idea in a clever and amusing way. I am sure you will be fascinated to know that this literary device comes from the Greek, ἐπίγραμμα, via late Middle English, and it has been employed for more than two thousand years.

More generally, and for our purpose today, it’s that quote that you find at the head of a chapter or start of a book or part of a book.

Why am I particularly interested in epigrams today? Pay attention, and you shall hear of the travails of one of my Beloved Authors – we’ll call her BA – who has Tried To Do The Right Thing.

BA wanted to use a quote from The Book of Imaginary Beings by the Argentinian writer Jorge Luis Borges, and I advised her that she would need to get permission, and to start with the agent for Borges’ estate, supplied via the Society of Authors (a font of useful knowledge for such things). Now, what generally happens here is that the copyright holder either (a) says, ‘Yay! Go for it! No fee!’ or (b) says, ‘Yay! Go for it! X pounds, please!’ And then there will be some forms to fill in, mostly dealing with how exactly we’re going to credit the writer, and that’s that. Obviously, we hope for option A, rather than B, which can work out costly (lines of songs tend to be a bit on the pricy side, for example).

In this case, though, all started well: the agent who handles Borges’ estate referred BA to the UK publisher, Random House, and it didn’t take too long for them to come back with permission, free of charge for the UK and Commonwealth, excluding Canada.

The problem is, I generally buy World Rights, which means that BA needs permission to publish this quote everywhere – but after some discussion we agreed that as long as North America was covered – as we’ll be bringing the book out as part of QUSA/JFB USA – we’d not worry about the rest of the world.

So, girding her loins once more, off BA went again, this time to Penguin in USA and Canada, respectively.

In her explanatory email to me, she said, ‘Here’s where it gets sticky.’ She is a master of understatement, this one!

The Book of Imaginary Beings was written in Spanish, so the issue is not one of just permission to reprint, but to use a particular translation: in this case by the American translator Norman Thomas di Giovanni.

Penguin US did publish the di Giovanni translation, and do control world rights outside of the UK – but their agreement with the author’s estate means they can license only a completely different translation, by one Andrew Hurley.

So yes, we can have permission, and free of charge at that – but it’s for the wrong words –because both BA and I agree that the later translation, of this sentence at least, is not as good.

To make matters worse, Penguin Canada has still not responded.

Oh, and to get the okay for electronic rights, she was told she would need to go back to the agency.

So back she went to the agent. Any vague thoughts she might have had of circumventing the North American situation by dealing direct with the agency were blown out of the water when the agent revealed that yes, she could and would let BA have e-rights, for a small fee – but only for the Hurley version!

This is the point BA came to me, and we agreed, after some discussion, that since it was clear the author no longer wanted the di Giovanni translation out there, she would step away from the epigram.

And there, I thought, we would leave it, and I would use this sorry tale of months spent chasing down the permissions to show you how hard your Beloved Authors work to make sure the books are as perfect as they can be.

But there is a post scriptum: I was checking the spelling of di Giovanni (because my copy ofImaginary Beings is mysteriously MIA) when I came across this. I am paraphrasing, but in short, Borges’ widow and erstwhile personal assistant, Maria Kodama, rescinded all publishing rights for the existing collections of his work in English – including the translations by di Giovanni, in which the author himself had collaborated – because (it appears) the translator received an unprecedented half of the royalties! Kodama herself commissioned the new translations by Andrew Hurley, which have become the standard English texts.

And now I have to tell Stephanie Saulter – for it is she – that my main reason for pulling out – that the author himself had gone off the translation – appears to be very far from the case. Still, we’ve made the decision and moved on.

The one thing I can promise you is that losing that line from Imaginary Beings will make not one jot of difference to the fantastic story that is Gemsigns, coming to a bookshop near you next spring.

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.

  • 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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