Tuesday, 29 July 2014


My short story, "Flytrap", has just been published in issue #253 of the long-running science fiction magazine, Interzone, and as has been common with newly published stories I'm blogging about the gestation of the story for those who might be interested. Beware, there will be spoilers for those who have yet to read it.

I initially wrote "Flytrap" for the Terra Aphrodite anthology from Whippleshield Books. The remit was for a story that featured the planet Venus, and the devil in me decided a venus flytrap was such an obvious word association idea that I had to write it in order to subvert the connection. Editor Ian Sales declined to take it for the book, but in many ways this was a bonus as I then sent it immediately to Interzone and it was accepted in a matter of days. The story marks my first Interzone appearance and I'm immensely proud and excited to be part of the magazine.

Back to the story itself. Other than the title and the tenuous venus connection I initially had little to go on, but I had recently read "Invasion of the Bodysnatchers" by Jack Finney (from which numerous movies have been based, of course), and I was struck by an idea of reversing the concept. Here's that spoiler: what if we were the aliens already on Earth who had successfully integrated with the human race yet had a longing to go back home. What if the actual inhabitants of Earth were little more than vegetables in terms of their intellect and there was a danger of dumbing down the aliens through integration. What if the aliens were absorbing all the ennui of the real human race. What would happen then?

From this simple idea the story came to life. Whereas in Finney's book it's the intellect of the human race that needs saving before they become shells of their former selves, in my story the opposite is true: humans are sucking the life and intelligence from the aliens amongst them. It also works as a metaphor about the general dumbing down of society as we become saturated by mind numbing nonsense through a parade of 'celebrity' and 'reality' shows and how our sense of achievement has become determined by how many objects we own. The humans in my story are the empty shells, and my Venusians 'wake up' with the compulsion to escape from this.

Of course, they are only Venusian because of the necessity of the Terra Aphrodite remit (probably why the story was rejected by that anthology) but I'm grateful that the flytrap reference was handed to me on a plate because it also provided me with the required pods as per Finney's story. The artwork for my story is by Daniel Bristow-Bailey and illustrates this perfectly:

Interzone is the UK's longest running SF magazine, but with the recent loss of a distributor it might become increasingly difficult to get hold of a copy. Please consider a purchase, not just to read my story, but for the remainder of the content. Interzone #253 also contains new stories by James Van Pelt, Neil Williamson, D.J. Cockburn (the 2014 James White Award winner), E. Catherine Tobler, and Caren Gussuff. The cover art is by Wayne Haag, and interior colour illustrations are by Richard Wagner, Martin Hanford, Daniel Bristow-Bailey. All the usual features are present: Ansible Link by David Langford (news and obits); Mutant Popcorn by Nick Lowe (film reviews); Laser Fodder by Tony Lee (DVD/Blu-ray reviews); Book Zone: reviews of many latest releases plus an interview with John Joseph Adams and Jonathan McCalmont's Future Interrupted column.

You can pick up a copy here.

Finally, as usual I wrote this story listening to one CD on repeat. In this case it was "Too Much Information" by the wonderfully lyrical Maximo Park.

Thursday, 17 July 2014

The Immortalists - promotion and feedback

As regular readers of this blog will know my neo-noir crime novel, "The Immortalists", was published in March by Telos. As well as the publisher ploughing ahead with their own agenda I've also been active in promoting the book (any author has to in this day and age, you can't sit back and watch the royalties flood in whilst thinking that the writing of the book sees the end of your involvement).

So, I thought I'd summarise what I've done so far together with some reader feedback, but also mentioning some difficulties I've been having promoting a book when EVERYONE is promoting a book.

1. Book Signing. I had a signing at the Diss Publishing Bookshop last month which - due to a beautiful summer's day - didn't attract a lot of custom. This was no one's fault. The event was well advertised by both myself and the store and in all fairness we sold copies to those who were passing trade. I've been invited back to do another signing towards Christmas on a date to be fixed.

2. Readings. I've also promoted the book doing open mic readings at our local Café Writers group, and I have a booking for the 2nd September at the Salon in Norwich as part of their noir evening which is a preamble to a full-blown noir weekend. I must admit I've found readings in the past don't lead to immediate sales, but like all promotion hidden sales can accrue after the event. It has been hard promoting a genre novel published by an independent publisher in the Norwich/Norfolk area, probably due to the suffocating blanket of the University of East Anglia creative writing scheme which floods literary events with tutors rather than writers. Perhaps because of this many bookstores/events seem prone to paraphrasing Dr Seuss' "Green Eggs and Ham": 'I do not like that genre lit, I do not like it not one bit'. I was, however, interviewed on local Future Radio which was very enjoyable.

3. Goodreads giveaway. I decided to float one copy as a goodreads giveaway, wondering whether those who applied for the freebie might then consider purchasing it. Over the space of one month 875 people requested it, and of those 367 added it to their shelves to be read. I'm not sure how or if that's since translated into sales but at least those people are now aware of the book, and the lucky winner will hopefully do a review.

4. Reviews. These have been slow coming in. Either reviewers are not reading the book or they're not requesting it. To quote selectively from the best to date: "Hook has got the wisecracking dialogue spot on, with plenty of nods to 50s pulp...interesting modern noir". The chap at Future Radio also described it as a "wonderful novel".

5. Once it has been read, however, I've had some great individual reader feedback. Perhaps the best of these has been from Mary Overton, who not only said that she greatly enjoyed the book, but created a 'reader web' to follow the plot - 'a visual of the reader's progress as I was reading'. Here it is (photo by Matt Beall):

I don't know about you, but I find it fascinating and amazing that someone has gone to this effort. And because of the way I write, it's actually far more detailed than my own novel notes would have been! Being a writer is akin to living in a vacuum and any kind of interaction/feedback is essential for the soul. In this instance, it gave me a big smile.

So there you have it: the trials and tribulations post-publication of promoting a novel. Which I will continue to do via twitter, facebook, readings, signings and anything else I can think of.

I can't leave this blog without suggesting you buy it either as a paperback or e-book. If you do so, please review so I know that I'm loved (or hated). Either will do!

Wednesday, 9 July 2014

The Battle of Fantasy vs Reality

I'm not a great fan of domestic football but I love the World Cup. It's not often the world comes together in such a competitive yet encouraging way, and the concentration of the competition over a few weeks and the opportunity to root for an underdog really makes for a great occasion. I don't get all patriotic and jingoistic, however; in fact, when England play I always support the opposing team (true punk that I am). However there can always be spoilers in the tournament and whilst this competition has been superb until this point, last night the spoiler was Germany.

They were described as a "well-oiled machine" by one of the sporting pundits and whenever I've watched Germany I've always thought they were just that: a machine playing with military precision. There's an inevitability to their success, and whilst I don't pay enough attention to look at actual statistics (which no doubt would prove me wrong) it seems that they win every game I watch. That inexorable steamrolling success really gets my hackles up because it runs roughshod over the magic of the game and trashes fantasy by replacing it with reality.

I'm a great fan of fantasy over reality. Let's get this into perspective. As a writer I love the way fantasy intertwines with reality - that what we often consider to be real is in fact quite fantastical. I'm not into overt fantasy such as elves, dragons or games with thrones, but the sense that what we perceive to be real is actually fantasy if we take a step back from it. Sometimes it seems mankind's entire brief is to catalogue the world into routine compartments and to suck the joy out of it. That's why we devised society - to dampen fantasy. And what we've decided to call fantasy in it's place is actually escapism from the society we've created. What we should be doing is reclaiming fantasy from the 'reality' our consensus has decided to call society.

So when Germany scored five goals within 30 minutes of their semi-final with Brazil it completely ruined the remainder of the game - and the tournament. No matter how skillful Germany might have been, or how much credit we should give their players, they completely snuffed out the World Cup. Brazil were not a great side, but they upheld the fantasy of the competition. Germany's performance was not magical, it was routine, equivalent to clinical deforestation in a rainforest. Even the team's celebrations appeared mechanical. Their crushing victory reasserted 'reality' over fantasy, deflated the momentum of the tournament, the final games are almost irrelevant, it no longer matters who wins.

There's something about the destruction of a dream, the imposition of reality, that hurts; that reminds us of the inevitability of death. If Germany had won the game 1-0, or 2-0, or even 3-0 then that wouldn't have been a problem, but they stamped on Brazil's hopes and dreams and ground them under a jackbooted foot. It was the extent of the rout which did the damage. They were the eleven horsemen of the apocalypse reminding us that reality will reassert itself - over and over again - if our consensual reality lets it.

We must take a stand. Embrace the fantastical in your life and let's turn reality on its head.

(I should add that the diatribe against Germany is not due to some misplaced post-post-war residue - I am in no way anti-German and if they had played England I would have backed Germany to the hilt).

Thursday, 3 July 2014

Fur-Lined Ghettos issue #5

Time to announce that my partner's alt-poetry/weird prose magazine, Fur-Lined Ghettos, has reached it's fifth issue and is now available for purchase.

It's chock full of alt-poetry, surrealism, automatism, cut-up, existentialism, experimentation and subtle beauty.

There's poetry from Zachary Aaron, Cassandra de Alba, JR Clarke, Zachary Cosby, Dalton Day, Douglass Guy, Maya Owen, Ross Scott-Buccleuch, Kevin Sharp and Carol Shillibeer, with a short story by KL Owens.

The cool cover art is by Alba Blázquez.

We read submissions all year around, but we can only survive if we sell copies. Please consider a purchase, especially if submitting. Print magazines are getting few and far between, but we love print and won't kowtow to the e-book onslaught. Buy us and bask in the permanency of print!