Monday, 26 November 2012

Flash For Life

I liked Newcastle as a city, on the whole, but the period I spent living there was pretty tough going.

I moved there, maybe five years ago, for my first IT contracting job.  At least, I thought I was moving to Newcastle; actually, due to an utter lack of research, I ended up living in a new build of flats far out of the city on the outskirts of North Shields, an area so bleak and fog-laden and generally terrifying that it took me three months to convince myself I hadn't accidentally relocated to Silent Hill.

The place where I worked was even worse, one of those nightmarish so-called 'business parks'; has there ever been a more transparent attempt to make something horrible sound fun?  I was living alone, and I didn't know many people nearby.  I hated the work.  My second winter there was one of the harshest of recent decades, and I was doing most of my traveling on foot or bike.  It was a hard time, all told.

The things that made it bearable weren't exactly the kind of things you might expect.  High on the list was the nature reserve that abutted bizarrely onto the business park, perhaps meant as some sort of apology.  In contrast with almost everything round about, it was an amazing place.  There were all sorts of different habitats hidden away inside a relatively small space, and lots of wildlife that you wouldn't expect to stumble across in an urbanized area just outside of Newcastle, like deer and longhorn cattle.  And there were a family of swans that I got weirdly attached to, just from seeing them day after day after day in the lake I cycled by.

I've always hated that whole "write what you know" rule, and tried to ignore it as much as possible.  It's great advice if you're Oscar Wilde or Ian Fleming, but fairly rubbish for the rest of us.  On this one occasion, however, I did write what I knew.  Well, a bit of it, anyway; the bare bones of that last, bitter winter in the distant outskirts of Newcastle became a flash tale called For Life.  It's one of my rare forays outside of genre fiction, a little story about death, rebirth, relationships, change, all that stuff.  But mostly it's about the swans, and the snapshot I got of their existence went in more or less intact.

The first time I sent For Life to Flash Fiction Online, it was rejected for being too gloomy; they'd had a glut of downbeat stories around about that time.  But editor Jake Freivald liked it, and suggested I try them again in a few months if I hadn't found another home for it.  When a few months later I hadn't, I sent it in again.  That time I got a nice hold request saying that it had been positively received, although at least one of the proofreaders had found it overly depressing.  A month or two later, (and a week or two ago now), it was accepted.

Funnily enough, I've never thought of For Life as being such a sad story.  I think it ends on kind of a hopeful note.  Then again, perhaps that's because so much of my own life went into it, and because of my knowing what happened after the story, at least those bits of it that were mine ... that sometimes, the tough times are just life's way of getting you ready for whatever comes next.*

* Funnily enough, Justine Lee Musk recently wrote a superb article on this very subject here.

Friday, 16 November 2012

Reading in Sheffield Tomorrow

In Sheffield tomorrow?  Like libraries and books and people reading books in libraries?  Why not come along to Sheffield library at one o'clock in the PM and listen to me, Anne "Alchemist of Souls" Lyle, Mike "Courts of the Feyre" Shevdon and Gav "Crown of the Blood" Thorpe read from our respective novels and then try to answer lots of really difficult questions?  There'll also be a panel with Lee and Darren from Angry Robot and those of us authors still capable of stringing words together on how to break into publishing (hint ... blackmail never hurts!).  And to close up, a fight between a giant spider and a velociraptor!*  Not only that, it's all FREE (although you do have to call ahead and book a seat.)

More details on the Angry Robot blog, and here's a picture of the four of us looking happy and / or scowly at the prospect of all those tricky, tricky questions.

* Not confirmed at time of writing.

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

The Glass Parachute

As much as I tried to be positive when I wrote my series of blog posts on the small press, the truth was that the articles came as much out of frustration at the more negative experiences I'd had with certain editors and magazines as it did from wanting to praise the things I felt the small press was getting right.  There'd been some great experiences along the way, but at that point I felt as though the bad was outweighing the good.  In fact, by the time I wrote the last post, I'd more or less decided to back off from the small press for a while and concentrate on trying to shift my best and brightest stories to professional markets. 

Something I hadn't anticipated was that editors might come to me - but that was exactly what began to happen.  So my decision went straight out the window.  It's one thing to choose not to submit to markets, another entirely to say no when someone actually asks you for a story!  One of those editors was Eric Guignard, who's already had plenty of mention on this blog, and another was Matt Edginton, who, looking back, I seem to have failed to talk about quite so much.

Now that Matt's first anthology The Glass Parachute is out, containing my story Final Relocation, I get to redress that a little.  I've been getting steadily more excited about TGP as it got closer, and as it became obvious just how much love and care and graphic design talent Matt was throwing at it.  All of that's reflected in the final product, a charming, professionally crafted, lavishly illustrated and all in all very characterful book.  As first attempts go, it's every bit as impressive as Eric's much-praised Dark Tales anthology earlier in the year.

The strange thing is that my working experience with both Eric and Matt ended up being pretty similar, while at the same time different from the sort of time I'd had with most other editors.  Both of them came to me with a clear idea of what they wanted to do, and even with cover art already in place; both kept me updated as their anthologies came together, worked closely with me on the edit, asked for and listened to advice, and have continued to send out updates since their collections were released.  In fact, off the top of my head, I think they both nailed every one of those ten points I wrote about in my small press blog series; anyone thinking about putting out their first anthology could learn a lot from these guys.

On a related side note, the reason my banner at the top there is a whole lot funkier, more professional and less thrown-together-in-Paint-looking as of recent weeks is that Matt was nice enough to redo it for me, by way of a thank you for Final Relocation.  Which, thinking about it, is something else I sort of talked about back in the day.  So cheers to Matt for not only putting out a small press collection I can be proud to be part of, but also for making my blogular home a much nicer place to hang my blogging hat.

Saturday, 10 November 2012

Cheap E-Book Birthday Spectacular

It happened to be my birthday yesterday.  No, I'm not saying which one, but I will say that I just got back from an absolutely fantastic few days in Paris spent celebrating.  Although,I'm not sure I'll be eating snails again in any kind of a hurry ... *shudders*

Anyway, the reason I mention it is that, as congratulations for my managing to protract my existence for another year, Angry Robot have knocked half the price off the e-book editions of both Giant Thief and Crown Thief until Monday.  Not only that, they have some books by other folks who just happen to have been born in the merry month of November, too ... Aliette de Bodard's Obsidian and Blood trilogy, Lee Battersby's recently released The Corpse Rat King, and some kind of steampunk lunacy by that Lavie Tidhar guy.  Didn't he just win some award or other

Anyway, have a look here for details.

And, on a completely unrelated note, there's also a new interview with me up - the first specifically talking about Crown Thief unless my memory's playing tricks on me - at SF Signal.  Cheers to Paul Weimer for the well-posed questions.

Sunday, 4 November 2012

Signs and Nightmares

One of my regrets this year is that I've been so busy with novels and other big projects that not have I not been able to write any new short stories, I haven't even had time to send out the ones I've already written.  In fact, until recently, the closest I've come is editing some of the backlog I've been stockpiling over the last four years.

That's changed a bit in the last couple of months, with the first draft of Prince Thief done and dusted, and the extra hard work of beginning to tout some twenty stories began to pay off last week, when John Joseph Adams accepted my The Sign in the Moonlight for his new horror webzine Nightmare.  Considering that my first sale to John, Stockholm Syndrome, appeared in the World Fantasy Award nominated anthology The Living Dead, and my second was Jenny's Sick, published in Lightspeed during its multi-Hugo nominated first year, I've got to admit I have some hopes and expectations for this one.

As for The Sign in the Moonlight itself, I'm sure I'll talk about it plenty when it comes out.  For the moment, suffice to say that it was one of the most satisfying but also bizarre writing experiences I've ever had.  Acting completely out of character, I did a ton of research - into Alesteir Crowley, rock climbing, Tibet and the mountain of Kanchenjunga, amongst other things - and the stuff I came up with was almost too perfect for the tale I wanted to tell ... so much so that I got quite spooked before I was done.  Then, once it was finished, I weirded myself out even more when I discovered that the final word count was 5555; an odd coincidence given how significantly and often the number five occurs throughout the story.

(Go on, just guess how many points that sign in the title has!)