Tuesday, 9 September 2014

Going Through the (Pro)motions

Obligatory accompanying image
Many reams have been used up writing about the various conventions this summer, but it was only as I sat at the BFS awards banquet that I felt inspired to write a post. Peter Newman, who will see his debut novel, The Vagrant released next year mentioned that he’d sat in on a panel I took part in. I had placed a copy of The Boy with the Porcelain Blade in front of me, face out to the audience. It’s something I’d heard American authors do, and I’d seen Django Wexler displaying his novel while moderating at LonCon.

It’s not something we really do at UK conventions, and Peter suggested we need to invite authors to do more of this. I suspect there’s a feeling of embarrassment about promoting one’s own work among us Brits that is absent in the majority of US writers. ‘Making art is all well and good, but marketing? Now, that’s just uncalled for,’ seems to be the unspoken rule.

Panels are rare times when an author has an audience staring at them for an hour or more. This is weird enough without factoring in that said author is required to say interesting things. Just about every other platform in the world would have a commercial break – television, cinema, radio, Spotify, YouTube, Facebook and so on. Why not panels? A book with a good cover is an advert all by itself. It doesn’t make you wait thirty seconds before seeing the video you selected. A book does not blare out music you don’t care for. A book won’t repeat and repeat and repeat. A book will simply stand on the table and provide shy authors with something to hide behind. And maybe, just maybe, it will pique the audience’s interest enough to buy a copy.

Thursday, 4 September 2014

Peace Sells but Who's Buying?

There is nothing more unremarkable about London than waiting at a bus stop. These pauses in the quotidian coming and going are just dead time, shored up by whatever plays on the headphones. Not so this morning. It was not the bus I wanted, nor was it a bus that would be of service to anyone. An old Routemaster had been converted into a moving billboard by the simple application of huge transfers to both sides. The fact the company had chosen the Routemaster was no mistake, it was once the very symbol of a young, post-war London, way back in the 60s. And what better figure, so artfully displayed in black and white, than an elderly Ringo Star holding up the peace sign. 

A 60s icon on a 60s icon. 

The bus was advertising clothes and the designer has pledged a single dollar for each photo or video tweeted that features their hash tag, #peacerocks. A single dollar doesn’t seem all that much when compared to the asymmetrical biker jacket that sells for a cool $2,198.00. Still, a single dollar to a good cause (Ringo Star’s Peace and Love Fund) is better than no dollar at all, and this Twitter campaign will rack up some serious milage while advertising Slim Fit Button Down Shirt ($268.00) and Fleetwood Multi-Prong Boot ($898.00).

I remember scores of women who campaigned on Greenham Common at the start of the 80s. Women who protested against the USA basing cruise missiles in the UK. This, just like Ringo on the Routemaster, was no mistake. Women who had been confined to the kitchen and the home for so long were out and protesting for the sake of future generations. Mothers protecting their children. By coincidence, the Routemaster was being phased out around this time, along with the hope and optimism of the 60s and 70s, presumably.

I wonder what those veterans of Greenham Common would make of GQ magazine recognising Tony Blair for philanthropy? I wonder if they might have had their own hastag, or that they be subjected to endless vitriol from trolls and misogynists for daring to have a voice. It’s not too much of a stretch to imagine the Greenham Common protesters might have listened (and still listen) to the Beatles. I wonder what they make of Ringo Star having to cosy up to an overpriced designer in order to raise money for his foundation? I wonder where the people who just wanted peace and love for the sake of not killing or oppressing people went?

Friday, 29 August 2014

That Crazy Summer

It’s been a while since I’ve updated the blog. Early August was a tide of events, kicking off with Nine Worlds, followed by Fantasy in the Court at Goldsboro Books, then Gollancz Fest at Waterstones Piccadilly. And then the daddy of them all, WorldCon, or LonCon3 as it was also known. It seems conventions are incapable of having a single point of branding.

As a debut author I was keen to get out there and meet the public, hope I won them over in some way, and that they would buy the book. There was always a feeling I wasn’t doing enough, not appearing on enough panels, not rubbing shoulders with the right people. I spent eighth months writing The Boy with the Porcelain Blade, spent another two weeks polishing it before submission to my agent. Then another two weeks refining it for submission to Gollancz. Then there were copy edits and proof reading. And that is relatively quick for a novel in my experience. My prevailing thought was Well I spent all this time on it, it would be a shame if no one read it.

Fortunately people are reading it. Gollancz sold out of copies at WorldCon, which made me feel good. Amazon has steadily tallied up reviews (but feel free to add your own, every little helps and authors live and die by their ‘stars’ in the digital age). Friends send me pictures by text when they see it in shops, which is a fantastic feeling. Waterstones particularly not only stock it but recommend it in a handful of stores, which I’m profoundly grateful for. If I appear blithely ignorant of ‘how it’s going’ then it’s because I am. I don’t look at my own sales figures, that way lies madness I think. There are plenty of things to obsess on in life and sales figures could well unravel my tiny mind. My job should be writing, not fretting, after all.

High points of the summer were moderating the Epic Fantasy panel with Elizabeth Bear, Gaie Sebold, Rebecca Levine and Scott Lynch, who were all amazing. I’ve never moderated before and I’m grateful to the Nine World books track organisers for asking me.

Fantasy in the Court was the most charming boozy street party full of interesting people. I was even asked to sign a couple of copies of Porcelain. Thanks to everyone at Goldsboro Books for all their hard work.

As biased as it sounds, the Gollancz team kicked much ass with their event at Waterstones Piccadilly. It’s quite a thing to be interviewed (along with my fellow debut authors) by Gillian Redfearn, just moments after Sarah Pinborough has interviewed Joe Hill. Forgive me if I sound starstruck.

And finally I’ll sign off by telling you the third draft of book three of The Erebus Sequence. is complete. Thanks to my test readers Matt Lyons and Matt Rowan. Now I send the manuscript to my agent for quality control. Let’s hope she likes it. 

Tuesday, 5 August 2014

An Open Letter to Authors

Dear author,

It is convention month in London for genre writers and there are some things we should admit to ourselves.

Your worth as an author – and indeed as a human being – should not be
measured by the number of panels you are asked to participate in, the
subjects of those panels, or how many parties you’ve been invited to. You
are still awesome. You still worked really hard on your book(s), short
stories and flash fiction. You are still loved by your friends. You’re
still as dazed, confused and overwhelmed as the next author.

We should move at our own pace. Writers spend a lot of time alone, a huge
amount if you’re full time. Don’t feel obliged to be ‘on duty’ 24/7.
Conventions are busy, visually arresting affairs that take place in anodyne
hotels full of people hunting down a good time. Take a time out when you
need it, have a good time on your own terms. Keep an eye on the amount of coffee and booze you’re mainlining if you’re feeling anxious. Try and take some vitamins once in a while.

Not all authors and professionals are going to get along. Genre publishing
is like a very large, dysfunctional family complete with favourite sons and
daughters, weird uncles, snippy aunts and the occasional bastard, to say
nothing of overbearing fathers and passive aggressive mothers. There are
feuds and disagreements, foolishness and disappointments. Art imitates
life, so it stands to reason conventions should too. Spend time with the people you want to spend time with, and don’t feel under pressure to speak to everyone.

Being on panels is stressful. No one wants to put their proverbial foot in
their mouth (or any other foot). Do your homework, prepare ahead of time,
reach out to other people on the panel to sound them out before the day.
You may worry that you’re not terribly interesting, but there will definitely be people in the audience who will want to hear what you have to say.

We are there to have a good time. Conventions are not just for the fans,
they are a chance for authors to unplug and attempt to pass themselves off
as socialised mature adults (some us find this more challenging than
others). Kick back, stop worrying, meet up with old friends and keep your
mind open to meeting new ones.

Conventions are a good way to meet new readers, and they provide a means to solidify your rapport with your fans, but if you find public-speaking hard, or worry that you haven’t been asked to do enough don’t panic – it’s not going to do any harm to your career. Bear this in mind at all times. This is a piss up in a hotel with formalised conversations, so focus on relaxing, and having fun.

Friday, 18 July 2014


I’m hiding out at friend’s house with my Mac screen propped up on some D&D rule books because the hinge is loose and my flat is a no go zone. Sorry for detonating your imaginings of the glamourous life of a writer.

Changes. Lots of changes lately. My flat mate is in the process of packing up his entire life. And because he’s a bookworm there is a hell of a lot of it. Not to mention DVDs and the vast amount of Doctor Who related kitsch that swamps the lounge. The flat is currently a waiting room, a loading bay with an attached kitchen. No place for writing at all.

Changes. Lots of changes. I’ve started work on a new series that may or may not go anywhere. I’m playing with all the Fantasy tropes I deliberately avoided with the last series. Magic and strange creatures and mentions of dragons. It feels weird writing ‘the last series’ when Book Two isn’t released until 18 Feb 2015 and Book Three some time in 2016. There’s still things I want to do in Landfall, but it’s too early to say if they’re viable. Will anybody want to read it?

And still more changes. The news feed is a litany of failure. Scientists and civilians shot out of the skies over Ukraine as children are bombed on beaches for the crime of being born Palestinian. The US of A sells even more weapons to Israel despite the growing shit storm. Cameron cynically reshuffles his cabinet to appeal to women voters and all those who absconded to UKIP. A brazen attempt to bring us yet more austerity despite the champagne bill at the House of Lords skyrocketing.

Hands up who’d like a change for the better?