The answer to ‘why?’ is WHY NOT?

Here’s that post I wrote for the Jo Fletcher Books blog, reposted here:

WHY NOT? Crossing Cultures and Shifting Perspectives | Jo Fletcher Books

‘Why?’ The interviewer asked me, sounding intrigued but baffled. ‘Why, why did you want to write a book like this?’

I was appearing on Smile Jamaica, TVJ’s morning television show (think BBC Breakfast format), to talk about Gemsigns a day ahead of its Caribbean launch. What had started out as a much needed and long overdue two-week break to see family and friends was turning into something approaching a promotional tour; and this, or some version of it, was turning out to be the most commonly asked question.

Why do you write science fiction? people wanted to know. You’re from Jamaica – what does that kind of literature have to do with you? With us? Isn’t it a bit – well – odd for you to be writing about things like genetic engineering and social media and the future of humanity?

It wasn’t a negative reaction, exactly; people were genuinely perplexed. And once I explained why it’s my vehicle of choice, what it has to do with the kinds of stories I want to tell, and most importantly that while my Caribbean heritage hugely informs my thinking on issues of ethics, equality and access, I do not and will not consider it a constraint on the breadth of my interests or the extent of my ambition, they got it. And they got behind it. The support and pride were overwhelming. But the fact that so much explanation was so frequently needed really made me think about expectation, and limitation, and how severe the subtle, subconscious constraints we put upon ourselves can be.

I pointed out to another interviewer that no one expects a writer who is from, say, New York or London to write only about New York or London. Natives of the developed world – especially those who are most representative of its dominant hegemony, which is to say white, straight, well-educated and male – are granted automatic licence to think and write about whatever they damn well please. Their horizons are expected to be broad. It’s a telling irony that, even while celebrating the emergence of those from more marginalised backgrounds onto the same stage, the reflexive assumption is that their interests, their imagination, their sense of expertise and entitlement, ought somehow to stay confined within those narrower margins. That they – we – will be less capable of, and less interested in, exploring the same terrain.

But give credit to my people – put it to them in those terms, and boy does that worm turn. I could almost see the lightbulb going on over the heads of my questioners. They understood that not treating where you come from as a constraint is the difference between declaring equality, and practising it. So I’ve been thinking about perspective, about how even small shifts can completely alter the way the same events are perceived.

This is something I already knew, of course – I even talk about it in the opening paragraphs of Gemsigns – but this trip brought it home to me again. And not least for the vastly greater amount of attention, the huge difference in profile, that I enjoyed launching Gemsigns in Jamaica.

Can you imagine an unknown author, devoid of celebrity associations or the frisson of scandal, being interviewed about her debut novel on BBC Breakfast? Having the press release for its London launch event featured in the entertainment section of the Guardian or the Times? No, me neither. By contrast, the level of interest and passion and genuine excitement that Gemsigns generated in Jamaica was truly humbling. Their view was: this woman has already accomplished something amazing, something we can all be proud of. She already deserves our attention, our admiration, our support.

There’s perspective for you. Same event, different perception. Is one more correct than the other? I don’t think so. The Jamaican perception is as true for Jamaica as the UK perception is true for the UK. I’ve been privileged to experience them both, and to learn from them both. And what I’ve learned (again) is this: crossing boundaries, confounding expectations, is mind-expanding in and of itself. We who go from the small to the large and back again, from the margins to the centre of the page, cover more ground than those who sit within the borders of their inherited territory. The need to speak to and for different audiences makes us think about the nature of communication itself; makes us adept at telling our stories in ways that connect.

That may not explain why I wanted to write a book like this. But it explains – to me at least – how I was able to.

GEMSIGNS extract on the web, + reviews, + discussion

Civilan Reader has posted an excerpt from Gemsigns, with a review to follow next week:

Excerpt: GEMSIGNS by Stephanie Saulter (Jo Fletcher Books).

There’ve also been two brilliant new reviews this week; one in the current issue of SciFiNow magazine, and the other on the Australian blog Speculating on SpecFic. Both are linked via the Reviews tab above.

And Jo Fletcher Books has contributed to the ongoing debate about gender imbalance in science fiction authorship and readership on their blog, and I’ve added my tuppence in comments; to the effect that the general public’s ongoing perception of SF as being limited only to a certain ‘type’ of book is at least as damaging as the gender issue. You can read that here.

#WomenToRead and Reviews

A quickie post to draw your attention to two cool things that happened yesterday, both discovered by me during what *should* have been a fifteen-minute tea break. One was the #womentoread meme on Twitter, started by Kari Sperring in response to the Strange Horizons analysis of SF book reviews in 2012, broken down by gender of author and gender of reviewer (the not-so-surprising conclusion: more books by men were submitted; more books by men were reviewed; more reviewers were men).

The analysis is interesting but hardly surprising, certainly not to anyone who’s been paying attention to the storm of controversy surrounding the Hugo and Clarke awards shortlists and the broader and deeper issues they illuminate about the challenges facing female writers of science fiction. For those who haven’t, the headlines are: it’s felt that it is generally harder for us to find an agent and/or publisher; that our books are less likely to be stocked by bookshops; and less likely to be reviewed, either by bloggers or more mainstream critics.

(I have to pause here for a moment to shout from the rooftops that MY AGENT AND PUBLISHER ARE EXCEPTIONS! Ian Drury represents a clutch of female authors who write SF, and Jo Fletcher Books has published not one, not two, but THREE science fiction novels by women so far this year: Karen Lord’s The Best of All Possible Worlds in January, Naomi Foyle’s Seoul Survivors in February, and Gemsigns by yours truly in March. Gemsigns is being carried by most bricks-and-mortar retailers – and is being added by more – and all online retailers. And I’ve been getting a steady stream of reviews, long may they continue. That doesn’t mean the problems people are talking about don’t exist, of course; just that so far I personally have nothing about which to complain.)

The #womentoread hashtag unleashed a torrent of names, in which I was flattered to find myself included several times by several contributors. For an author who has, as of today, been published for all of a month it feels like a real validation. But more importantly, there are literally dozens and dozens of authors listed there – maybe hundreds by now – writing in all genres, from all over the world. They are the writers other writers turn to for inspiration, instruction and entertainment, and they are well worth checking out.

The second cool thing was another good review of Gemsigns, by Sophie Atherton for Starburst Magazine. Thank you Starburst and Sophie – both for the review itself, and for bucking the trends described above.

I should note that, as promised a couple of weeks ago, I have reorganised the menu structure of this site in order to put up a Reviews tab. I’ll post links to every review I’m aware of there (unless they contain unflagged spoilers, which I will NOT link to, no matter how good the review might otherwise be). And I do mean every review; so far they’ve all been really positive, and of course I hope that continues to be the case, but as I said in an earlier post I expect – and respect the right of – reviewers to not all like the same thing. So as long as reviews are decently written, not spoiler-y and not abusive, I’ll include them.

Writers’ Room: Stephanie Saulter on Sci-Fi | Free Word Centre

Many thanks to Sam Sedgman and Free Word Online for inviting me into the Writers’ Room this week. Here’s the result.

Writers’ Room: Stephanie Saulter on Sci-Fi | Free Word Centre.

The author of ‘Gemsigns’ takes literary snobs to task with a passionate defence of science-fiction, and explains how she managed to fit writing a debut novel into the rest of her life.

Why are you a writer?

Because I can be.

I know the more fashionable answer is something along the lines of ‘because I just have to be’ or ‘because I couldn’t possibly be anything else.’ No disrespect whatsoever to those writers, but the simple truth is that I have spent most of my life not being one, and it would be disingenuous to suggest otherwise. Being a writer felt like the apex: the thing I would do when I felt that I knew enough, understood enough, could risk enough, to do it well. All those years of not being a writer were, to a fairly conscious degree, training to become one. There’s a real sense of reward about it: I’ve worked hard to build my own understanding of the world, I’ve remained curious, I’ve paid attention to other people’s stories – both the ones they tell themselves and others, and the ones they unconsciously live every day. There’s a moment when all of that starts to gel, when you think ‘I know what’s going on here. I can turn this into stories of my own. I can start to be a writer.’ 

This is your debut – how did you fit writing a novel into everything else in your life?

Strangely, that was the easy part. I had taken redundancy and gone freelance in the latter part of 2010, and had moved out of London into the Devon countryside to boot. It was April 2011 and I’d just finished a major project – so there was a bit of extra cash in the bank account – and I was waiting for word on several more that were in the pipeline. I had a bit of slack time, so I started organising several years’ worth of notes and research into the outline for the novel that had been steadily growing in my head for all of that time. And then I started writing it, and I couldn’t stop. I didn’t want to stop. As luck would have it, all of the jobs I was waiting on fell through. As even better luck would have it, two of my best friends came to stay over the May bank holiday, read what I’d written, and said ‘You need to stick with this. If you can afford to spend the next few months writing it, that’s what you should do.’ I knew I could rely both on their judgement and their honesty; they wouldn’t have told me that if it wasn’t really what they thought. And it was one of the few times in my life when I could afford to. So I did, to the exclusion of everything else.

Sci-Fi is often given short shrift by book critics – even though it’s enduringly popular and the home of some of our most politically-aware writing. What drew you to the genre?

I’ve never not read speculative fiction, whether based in fantasy or science. Two of my favourite and most formative books – I read them both for the first time when very young – are The Lord of the Rings and Frank Herbert’s Dune, and I suspect the course of my life in fiction was pretty much charted there. While fantasy lets you imagine a different world entirely, science fiction provides a vehicle for thinking about where our current challenges and dilemmas and obsessions may lead us. In Gemsigns in particular I wanted to look at how patterns of human behaviour recur and are endlessly explained and excused away. I wanted to examine belief systems – in a world in which science has quite literally and unequivocally been the salvation of humankind, does its works then go unquestioned in the same way that perceived acts of god are unquestioned among those of a religious bent? And what place does religion have in such a world? Is it progressive or static or reactionary? Does it survive at all?

If you want to ask those kinds of questions in fiction, if you want to speculate about what the answers may be, then you have to root the world you want to explore in some kind of internally consistent logic.  One route to that is the complete otherness of fantasy, but I prefer the connection with our current reality that scientific speculation provides. That seems to me an entirely sensible and artistically valid route to take, but there’s a very weird pathology at work in the way that most mainstream critics, and even many regular readers, view science fiction. It is a perpetually limited vision which has little in common with the reality of the genre. For one thing it’s generally presumed that if it’s labelled ‘science fiction’ it has to take place in the far future, in space, with aliens and robots and ray guns. Not that I don’t love a bit of space opera myself, but I am forever having to explain that this is not a prerequisite – not least when it comes to my own work, which has no anti-gravity or esoteric weaponry whatsoever and takes place mainly in the East End of London.

Another presumption is that stories rooted in speculation about where scientific development might take us cannot possibly have any literary merit; that they are by definition tech-heavy thrillers with little character development or emotional weight. It’s a bizarre view that having the one somehow precludes the other. Now it’s certainly true that there are a lot of SF & F novels out there that we could probably all agree aren’t  literary masterpieces, but I’m not aware of any other genre – crime, romance, or even the vaunted category known as Literary Fiction – that is universally judged by its least accomplished examples. I never know if the lit-crit establishment that looks down its collective nose at science fiction is being accidentally obtuse or intentionally obfuscatory, but they certainly manage a strong line in self-deception. What kind of books do they think Frankenstein and Brave New World and 1984 were, before they were deemed classics? Do they really imagine that Margaret Atwood and David Mitchell are not writing about the possible futures that might result from the decisions we make in the present? Have they not noticed that Hilary Mantel, celebrated author of, among other things, Beyond Black, is a jaw-droppingly good writer of supernatural horror as well as historical fiction – and that she illustrates the human condition just as well there?

Gemsigns, by Stephanie Saulter

How do you write?

When I’m in the early stages of a project, trying to work out what it’s about and who’s in it and what happens, I tend to scribble in notebooks and carry them around with me. It’s sort of the stream-of-consciousness phase when you are following the threads in your head, making connections. The writing down of things at this stage is more mnemonic than anything else. It’s not exclusively longhand, sometimes there are rambling, random screeds typed into the computer, or tapped out on my phone. A lot of it may look suspiciously like gazing blankly out of the window with a cooling cup of tea in your hand, or going for long, aimless walks in the country, but it’s all part of the process of writing. And it’s iterative; I have episodes like that throughout. I find you need them, as you work through knotty plot points and develop character arcs.

But when I actually feel the shape of the thing strongly enough in my head to be able to start turning it into prose, I write on my laptop (which is a MacBook Pro if anyone wants to know; I used Microsoft Word for Gemsigns, Scrivener for Binary). I find it very difficult to pop in and out of story-mode, so I try to dedicate big chunks of time to it; I haven’t yet got the knack of how to do something else all day and then write for a couple hours at night. So I’ll set aside a span of days in which that is all I’m going to be doing, and I treat it like a job; I start around 9 or 10 in the morning and I go all day. I usually begin by going over what I did the day before, which serves both as a first edit and to get me back into the mood and moment of the piece; and then I take it forward. I’ll have a word count I want to hit: I feel defeated if I miss it and triumphant if I exceed it. In theory I stop around 6 in the evening, make dinner, and that’s it for the day. In practice, especially if it’s going well or if I’m close to the end of a scene or a chapter, I go back to it and work into the night. Having a laptop means I can move around the house, so although I often start in my office in the basement, which has the ergonomic chair and the desk at the right height, I tend to migrate up into the kitchen or out into the conservatory. I’ve written huge amounts of both books sitting cross-legged on the sofa. It’s hell on my back, but good for the words.

If I’m in the mood to write it doesn’t matter whether I’m in the city or the country; the last really good bit of work I did on Binary was in the Barbican Library in London. But being able to take a break and go for a stroll along country lanes at four o’ clock in the afternoon was great for Gemsigns. By then you’ve been working solidly for a few hours and you need a breather and to take stock, and there’s usually some unforeseen problem that needs solving. The solution would almost always emerge about ten minutes after I’d left the house. All my farming neighbours got used to seeing me standing stock still in the middle of some muddy track, making notes on my phone. The arch-villain emerged fully formed out of a hedgerow one day, and some of the most cutting lines of dialogue were composed in the company of sheep.

What’s the hardest lesson you’ve learned from writing?

That because it was easy today doesn’t mean it’ll be easy tomorrow. As a rule, the more you do something the better you get at it and the easier it becomes. Maybe that will happen for me with writing too, but it hasn’t yet. I’ve been struck, as many new novelists are, by the challenges of the second book. Some of the things that felt almost reflexive with Gemsigns, that just sailed out of my head through my hands and onto the page without any fuss at all, have been a real struggle with Binary. And some of the things I felt most unsure of with Gemsigns have been the simplest, most fun parts of writing Binary. I’ve learned not to presume that because I’ve written one decent book I can now just churn them out. Getting it right on the page is a constant challenge.

What are you reading at the moment? And how is it?

Cloud Atlas, and it’s wonderful, but honestly it doesn’t lend itself to my schedule at the moment. I’m finding I don’t have time for more than half an hour’s reading late at night, and it’s the wrong kind of book for that. Cloud Atlas is a novel you should curl up with on a long, lazy afternoon with no distractions. A good book for a tedious train journey. I may have to finish it on one of those.

Stephanie Saulter is the author of Gemsigns, available from Jo Fletcher Books.

Planesrunner by Ian McDonald

There is not just one you, there are many yous. We’re part of a multiplicity of universes in parallel dimensions – and Everett Singh’s dad has found a way in.


So begins the jacket copy for Planesrunner, Ian McDonald’s first novel aimed at a YA audience. In truth it’s also a great first novel for anyone unfamiliar with McDonald’s work, or leery about novels full of heavy-duty science. McDonald builds Everett’s story around his favourite themes of quantum physics and the possibility of an infinite multitude of parallel universes; but here he goes a little slower and explains a little more than in the very adult, densely packed storyscapes of Brasyl and River of Gods, which I found indisputably brilliant, but which would probably prove more challenging reads for someone completely unfamiliar with the ideas he riffs on.

Everett’s dad is a quantum physicist and Everett is a ‘physics brat’, a kid who’s grown up so immersed in the esoteric worlds of theoretical physics and multi-dimensional mathematics that he can instinctively grasp concepts which even learned scientists struggle with. When his father is kidnapped off the streets of London right in front of him, he manages to send Everett one clue: an app on his iPad, the Infundibulum, which Everett is able to recognise as a map of the multiverse. One of the many things I love about this book is the fact that Everett is so unabashedly smart; there’s none of the apologia one often gets for that, the sense that there are negative social consequences to being really really intelligent and aw-shucks, you wouldn’t really want to be that clever, would you? Yes you would. Everett is geek to the core, but it’s made very clear that geekiness is cool, and that it does not prevent you from being good at other things too. Everett is also a star goalkeeper, and a stand-out cook.

Those interests are shared with his newly divorced dad; the descriptions of them screaming in the stands at Tottenham Hotspur matches or concocting dinners on their weekend ‘cuisine nights’ are delightful, and subtly reinforce the message that this is a normal family. The relationship between Everett and his father is in many ways the core of the book, which is interesting given that we see them together only very briefly; but Everett knows his dad and his dad knows Everett, and that closeness drives the story. Dr Singh knows Everett can work out the Infundibulum. Everett knows his dad would not have sent it to him otherwise, and therefore also knows he can do it. And that’s another thing I love; McDonald has not descended into the tired trope of angry, angsty teenager at odds with parents he doesn’t understand and who don’t understand him, which we see so often it feels as though all of literature is populated by dysfunctional parent-child relationships. No, he’s written normal: the far more prosaic – yet profound – reality that most parents and kids know each other well and love each other a lot and and have happy, comfortable lives together.

So hurrah for geeks, hurrah for ordinary, loving families, and, finally hurrah for diversity! This is not a story populated by the default Western-SF-standard of middle-class white people with a token brown or foreign person thrown in as a minor character, like a too-small dash of seasoning in a generally bland stew. Everett is a Londoner of mixed ethnicity, and the descriptions of the Punjabi side of his family are another delight. When he escapes to a gloriously electropunk London on a parallel earth in search of his father he meets Captain Anastasia Sixsmyth, her adopted daughter Sen, and the crew of the airship Everness – and finds himself part of the community of the Airish, a sky-going subculture with their own language, fashion, manners and customs. It’s a precise, insightful depiction of a different kind of caste and class system; the Airish are not defined by skin colour, national origin, religion or the other ethnic signals we’re used to, but they are nevertheless a very distinct group, and subject to very recognisable prejudices and presumptions as a result.

Despite all the fancy science and exotic scenery, Planesrunner is (like all good books) a recognisable story about kids and parents and society and challenges and relationships. It’s also a cracking adventure that jumps through worlds full of of super-cool heroes and cold-hearted villains, bizarre landscapes and alien technology, and offers up three new mysteries for every one solved. It’s the first book of the Everness series, and I can’t wait for the next one.


You ever get the guilty feeling that you’re so late with a post that it’s now too late, the thing you thought you should have written about days ago is old news, the window has been closed, the moment missed? Well I sort of feel like that. But I had too good a time at Bristolcon on Saturday not to at least acknowledge the hard work of chairperson Joanne Hall, who invited me when we met a month ago in Brighton at Fantasycon. She is clearly one of those rare people who can combine grace and good humour with ferocious organisational and timekeeping skills, as a result of which Bristolcon was fun and relaxed and went off without a hitch, at least from where I was standing/sitting/moving between panel discussions. And I met other extremely cool people and had some really interesting, stimulating conversations: shout-outs to Colum Paget (who appears to have recruited me for a hypothetical panel two Eastercons away – I’m game), Cheryl Morgan (who I think is a Bristolcon grandee, and I suspect a grandee of rather a lot, but I confess to missing details in the general hilarity), Iain Cairns, John Hawkes-Reed, Simeon Beresford, John Meaney, Gareth PowellAliette de Bodard (I came in early for a panel, caught the tail end of her reading, and became a fan; even more so when I spoke to her after and she turned out to be friendly and charming and invited me to sit at their table for lunch), and the lovely woman wearing the Neil Gaiman T-shirt with whom I shared a gushing fangirl moment along with a rather more measured chat, and whose name has since gone completely out of my head. I knew I should have posted sooner.

So be warned, those whom I will meet for the second, or even the third, time at Eastercon; it’s possible that I might get a deer-in-the-headlights look when you swan up to me with a cheery greeting. Please don’t take it personally, any more than I will when I do the swanning and you do the stricken-Bambi. I suspect it’s a condition endemic to the Cons, to be overcome only by repeated exposure.

Of giants and gentlemen

Gosh, that was fun.

I’ve been trying to figure out what my FantasyCon highlight was. There were the free books courtesy of a host of SFF major and indie publishers, and the free booze courtesy (mostly) of Jo Fletcher Books, and being introduced to the great and the good by the lovely Nicola Budd thusly: ‘Oh, have you met Stephanie? She’s one of our authors.’ There was the almost-impossible SFF trivia quiz which we came oh-so-close to winning, and the casual chat about one of my favourite authors with one of my favourite publishers, during which just enough was said about his next book to have me literally salivating in anticipation. It might have been getting to know the delightful Tom Pollock, reading (over and over) the inscription he wrote in my copy of The City’s Son or hearing him read the first chapter of its as-yet-unfinished sequel The Glass Republic; or laughing and talking literature with the equally delightful Snorri Kristjansson, whose first novel The Swords of Good Men I’m now looking forward to just as much.

But on reflection, wonderful as all those moments were, THE moment was something else. And I didn’t even know it at the time.

It was at the JFB 1st-anniversary party on Saturday night, surrounded by the beautiful books they’ve published over the past year and the beautiful bookmarks showcasing some of the volumes – including mine – coming next year. I started chatting to another of the authors whose novel Planesrunner is also featured on said bookmark. He was a convivial bloke named Ian McDonald, possessed of a thick brogue, a battered black leather jacket and amusingly wry commentary about books that do well in the US but not the UK and vice versa, for no reason that anyone can work out. There was something very familiar about him, though we clearly had never met before, and I blame the wine for me not paying sufficient attention to that fact at the time. He politely asked about me, and I gushed forth – as I’m afraid I may have done rather a lot – about how amazed and lucky I felt to be an about-to-be-published writer, how quickly and unexpectedly it had all happened, that a year ago I hadn’t even finished writing the novel whose cover art we were admiring. He blinked in what looked like genuine surprise and complimented me, something along the lines of: that’s pretty unusual, must be a really good book. So they tell me, I said, but let’s see what the punters think when it comes time to drop a tenner on it at Waterstones. And we had a chuckle, and shortly after that the currents of the party pulled us in different directions, as they do, and I didn’t see him again.

I wish I could say that the penny dropped the moment that scruffy jacket disappeared into the crowd, that waves of enlightenment parted around him and crashed over me in a well-deserved tsunami. I’m afraid it took a little longer, but I got there in the end. Ian McDonald. That’s the guy who wrote River of Gods and Brasyl, along with a host of other award-winning and -nominated books of the past twenty-odd years. The BSFA, Hugo, Nebula, Arthur C. Clarke. That Ian McDonald. Look him up if you don’t know. I did, as the penny pirouetted to a halt with a mocking tinkle. I must have not-quite-recognised him from a book jacket, or maybe from a webcast interview he did with that aforementioned favourite author of mine, talking about their respective Great Works. And he must have clocked me as an oblivious newbie, unaware of the extent of my own ignorance, and just let it go.

And that, in microcosm, was what made FantasyCon such a good experience. The warmth and welcome, the genuine enthusiasm and complete lack of pretension, the amused and kindly forbearance of the veterans for the novices. The fact that a giant of our genre was nice enough to let me prattle on, and felt absolutely no need to clue me in to who he was. To say and not say exactly the things that made me feel that I belonged there, just as he did.

Mr. McDonald, sir: I salute you. Better late than never.

GEMSIGNS cover blurb

My publisher asked if I wanted to have a crack at the jacket copy for Gemsigns. This is, of course, hugely important; how many of us decide to buy a book – or not – by picking up a likely-looking volume, flipping it over and reading the back? (Or the inside flap of the jacket if it’s a hardcover.) You’d think it  wouldn’t be too difficult, but it turns out that 2-3 short, punchy paragraphs that capture the essence of the story without giving too much away, that are enticing enough to hook a prospective reader, are not simple to construct at all. I’ve read my latest draft so many times now it’s a blur. So this is an attempt to crowdsource opinion. Would you buy this book?


Humanity stands on the brink. Again.

Surviving the Syndrome meant genetically altering every person on the planet. But norms and gems are different. Gems may have the superpowers that once made them valuable commodities, but they also have more than their fair share of the disabled, the violent and the psychotic. And a legacy of servitude, to which they will not return.

When the gem Gaela finds an abandoned child with an unregistered ability, events are set in motion that will drag every element of her fractured world into conflict: the vicious intrigues of the gemtech that created her, the holy war of the godgangs, and the fears and prejudices of the norm majority. Ruthless executive Zavcka Klist will do whatever it takes to retrieve little Gabriel. Deformed, unaccountably formidable leader Aryel Morningstar is hiding secrets of her own. Only norm scientist Dr Eli Walker can be trusted to navigate this treacherous terrain, in a desperate search for the truth.

Likes and/or comments much appreciated!

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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    The 3rd Book of the ®Evolution

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