Category: Books

Find Another Place, by Ben Graff

One of my clients, Ben Graff, has his first book, Find Another Place, coming out on March 28. I worked with Ben helping him find the structure for the book, which as it says on the cover is: An autobiographical meditation on family, focusing on childhood, parenting, the passage of time, loss, love, faith and memory. I encouraged Ben to dig deeper into himself, writing additional chapters and finding the essence of material, a complex tapestry of autobiography and family history. I’m very proud of the resulting volume, and I know Ben is too. Find Another Place (Amazon link) will be published by Troubadour, priced £11.99. Here is the text from the back cover: “Families are their stories,” said my grandfather Martin that late autumn day in 2001, as he placed a clear plastic folder containing his journal into my hands. Part historical meditation on people now gone, part detective story and journey of discovery, the book speaks to how we remember and re-assess what has gone before and how we make sense both of our here and now and the future. My grandfather had always wanted to be a writer and he gave me his journal shortly before his death. After many endings, paper often remains. Letters from my parents written in the 1970s before they were married, together with a handful of poems, extracts from diaries and other materials all form part of this reflection. It is possible to get to know people better, even after they are gone. A family’s interactions with the Isle of Wight, in war and peace, happy times and sad, run through the narrative. As does a relationship with literature, the desire to write and a passion for the game of chess. Anyone who has ever lost a parent; had a child or reflected on the fragility and beauty inherent in everyday life will enjoy this book.  

Literary Wonderlands – UK edition photos and raffle prizes

The UK edition of Literary Wonderlands is now out, published by Modern Books. Here you can see the UK edition, the beginning of my chapter about Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens by J.M. Barrie, and the US edition playing spot the difference. I also wrote the chapters on I, Robot (Isaac Asimov), Invisible Cities (Italo Calvino) and Snow Crash (Neal Stephenson). I will be taking two copies to Sledge Lit 3 at the Quad in Derby on Saturday (25 November), where they will be joining many other fine books as prizes in the raffle.  

Improbable Interviews: Tricia Sullivan

I have recently edited a new anthology of science fiction and fantasy stories about fantastical flora. The book, Improbable Botany, features authors who between them have won the Arthur C Clarke, British Science Fiction Association, John W. Campbell Memorial, Philip K. Dick, Nebula and Prometheus Awards, and been nominated for many more. The writers are: Cherith Baldry (co-author of the New York Times best-selling Warrior Cats series), Eric Brown (The Kings of Eternity, the Langham and Dupré crime novels, the most recent of which is Murder Take Three), Ken MacLeod (Intrusion, The Corporation Wars), Simon Morden (the Metrozone series, Down Station / The White City), Adam Roberts (The Real-Town Murders, The Thing Itself), James Kennedy (The Order of Odd-Fish), Stephen Palmer (The Factory Girl Trilogy, Memory Seed, Beautiful Intelligence), Justina Robson (The Quantum Gravity series, Natural History, Switch), Tricia Sullivan (Occupy Me, Dreaming in Smoke, Maul), and Lisa Tuttle (The Curious Affair of the Somnambulist and the Psychic Thief, The Mysteries, Windhaven (with George RR Martin)). As part of the project I have interviewed all ten of the contributing authors, not just about Improbable Botany but about their writing in general and much more besides. Below is my interview with Tricia Sullivan, whose latest novel, Occupy Me, is nominated for the Arthur C. Clarke Award. Her novel Dreaming in Smoke won the Clarke Award in 1999. Other works include Maul, Double Vision and lightborn. Improbable Botany is being published by Wayward, a London-based landscape, art and architecture practice, and funded via Kickstarter. The book is illustrated by Jonathan Burton (The Folio Society, Penguin Books, Random House). One of the Kickstarter bonuses is a free e-book which will include all the interviews, though they will also be published individually in various places. The only time they will ever appear all together is in the Kickstarter e-book. The Kickstarter also offers the opportunity to acquire A2-sized art prints of all six of Jonathan Burton’s interior illustrations, as well as his breathtaking cover art. *   Gary Dalkin: Your story for Improbable Botany, ‘Who Lived in a Tree’, offers an unusual perspective on a radically transformed London – it is narrated by a tree. Without giving too much away could you explain something of how the story came together? Tricia Sullivan: I’ve been a tree freak since I was a kid. I just love them, and I spent a lot of childhood time around trees and up in their branches. I considered trees friends, so maybe in some ways the story was a wish fulfillment fantasy. I wrote it in the fall of 2012, and I’d been reading about ideas for the greening of London (plant walls, etc) and also about the ‘internet of plants’ from Stefano Mancuso. I wanted to play with the idea of a symbiosis between humans and plants in which the connective talents of trees could be exploited for mutual benefit, so I took a big stretch with the research and let my imagination go. I think it would be much nicer to inhabit a living London than a stone one. At the same time, I was going through a lot of anxiety about my parents’ ageing. I wrote the first draft while my father was alive and more or less OK, but I was very aware of the increasing frailty of both parents, who lived 3500 miles away and would have nothing to do with the Internet. So it’s a story of the rise of the plants, but also of the decline and death of old creatures and old ways. When I came to revise the draft for submission a few months after my father’s unexpected death, I was struck by how personally prophetic the piece felt. Gary Dalkin: The notion of human-plant symbiosis, and of the ‘internet of plants’ is so intriguing, and such advances are being made bio-engineering, that I wonder if you have any thoughts about why botanical SF remains so comparatively under-explored? It would seem fertile soil for the imaginative writer … Tricia Sullivan: Well, Sheri Tepper did The Family Tree and I think Kameron Hurley has done some SF with plants. And of course, Jeff VanderMeer has done fungi. I’m sure there are others. I suspect the lack is down to commercial viability. A lot of SF nowadays stands on the shoulders of older generations. History provides a cultural shorthand that means  writers don’t have to work too hard conceptually if they don’t want to; they can focus on e.g. their thriller plot, or other aspects of the work that interest them. However, if you break into a whole new region–like plant symbiosis–you’ve got the full weight of socio-scientific speculation to carry all by yourself, in addition to working all the party tricks of commercial writing. Novelists, anyway, have got to have all the storytelling and worldbuilding solid as rock if they want to sell their work, because publishers are extremely risk-averse. So it would be a fantastic challenge to writers to have a go, but not a small one. Gary Dalkin: Any publisher which operated without any consideration of risk would presumably not stay in business long, but to be extremely risk-adverse would seem to be contrary to the very nature of truly imaginative fiction. Have you personally found problems with this conservative (with a small c) tenancy in publishing, and would you say this risk-aversion has been consistent throughout your time as a published novelist, or have things become better or worse? Tricia Sullivan: I’m lucky in that I’ve never had a big problem selling my SF to UK publishers, and I’ve never had a publisher try to tell me what to write in the sense of ‘we want to see space opera’ or something. Every SF book I’ve written, I’ve sold to a major house, no matter how bad the sales figures that came before. The failure of my work to pull in readers is where I suffered for a lot of years, thinking, ‘If only I could write something easier and with broader appeal…’ because I desperately needed the money. But the breadth of appeal of one’s work isn’t something one can control, necessarily. For me that was tough to accept, more so than anything publishers did or didn’t do. The state of the industry is a bewildering topic and publisher risk-aversion is the least of it. I’ve had no choice but to decide to write for love, in the cracks of my life, and forget the money. There is no money, for most of us. Gary Dalkin: Where do you think genre publishing might go now, in a commercial sense, and can traditional publishing survive when readers are rapidly becoming accustomed to 99p, or free, self-published e-books, and even e-books by name authors regularly being sold for next to nothing? Tricia Sullivan: I think anybody who could answer that question would get a pie, and they should certainly tell the rest of us post haste. From the author’s point of view the rise of crowdfunding offers another way to get paid, and many authors are going hybrid (mix of self and trad publishing). Social media opens new avenues. Take Kameron Hurley. She has built by hand the platform she stands on, and that’s above and beyond her skill as a novelist. That’s a lot of work, and not everyone has those extra skills or the sheer determination to keep making noise. I reckon it helps to be extroverted or to be able to fake being extroverted–or, as in Kameron’s case, to be driven by strong emotion. Aliette de Bodard is another luminous newer writer who is beginning to achieve name recognition by sheer hard work: years of writing copious short fiction, blogging, working social media, networking, late nights, no pay, hard hard work–and she, too, is burning with a drive for something larger than herself. Again and again, I’m seeing risk-takey writers bootstrap themselves into their careers. Gary Dalkin: You’ve blogged about being inspired by Michio Kaku’s Physics of the Impossible to let go of your ‘various science fiction induced hang-ups’ about what you ‘could or could not write’. And the result is Occupy Me. There is a sense that real science is outstripping where most SF is prepared to go, and now you are now considering a PhD in physics. If it came to a choice, can you see yourself leaving SF completely behind for a career in physics? And where next for your fiction, given that you wrote ‘Kaku takes the attitude that the impossible is a set of shifting goalposts’? Tricia Sullivan: I love writing, and when it comes to science fiction I am the real deal. At the same time I’ve already flipped a switch in my head that assumes I’m finished insofar as publishing goes. With that acceptance comes a great sense of freedom. My mojo is high. Full-time study plus part-time work plus family plus writing is my reality. If I do a PhD will it make more demands on my energy than that? Probably it will slow my writing down. I’m fairly difficult to stop. Doing science and/or teaching science means playing a part in human progress, no matter how small or devalued a part (and I have no illusions there). I want use my abilities in service to the world in the years that I have here. I’m writing a super girly SFF mystery right now for Gollancz, Sweet Dreams Are Made of This. After that I’ve got a fair chunk of my intergalactic breastfeeding novel on deck. This is the Sea builds on the cosmology I started setting up in Occupy Me and will be therefore completely whacked-out. It’s dirty work but I feel like someone has to push the envelope. I haven’t figured out the mechanics of the science/story interface because I’m dealing with technologies that are really, really different from the ones we have a narrative shorthand for. I try to write from angles that are underexploited, that yield insights you don’t otherwise get. I will go on bewildering people as long as given licence to do so. It’s good for me and them, bit of brisk exercise never killed anyone. * Improbable Botany is a brand-new science fiction anthology about alien plant conquests, fantastical ecosystems, benevolent dictatorships and techno-utopias This is the book plants don’t want you to read… Improbable Botany features newly commissioned short stories by ten multi-award winning science fiction authors: Ken MacLeod, Cherith Baldry, Eric Brown, Simon Morden, Adam Roberts, James Kennedy, Stephen Palmer, Justina Robson, Tricia Sullivan and Lisa Tuttle.

Improbable Botany interior art by Jonathan Burton

Yesterday I posted about the launch of the Kickstarter for the new anthology of fantasy and science fiction stories I have edited, Improbable Botany. The book contains stories by writers who between them have won every major award in the fields of science fiction and fantasy: Ken MacLeod, Cherith Baldry, Eric Brown, Simon Morden, Adam Roberts, James Kennedy, Stephen Palmer, Justina LA Robson, Tricia Sullivan and Lisa Tuttle. The book has cover art and six full colour interior illustrations by the award-winning artist Jonathan Burton. Above is a promo image for the interior art. Find out much more about the book, support the Kickstarter and get an edition with a limited Jonathan Burton art print at: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/waywardplants/

Improbable Botany Kickstarter launch

I’ve been looking forward to announcing this for a long time. And now it’s finally here. I’ve edited an anthology of stories about wayward plants. Improbable Botany contains stories by a roster of writers who between them have won every major award in the fields of science fiction and fantasy: Ken MacLeod, Cherith Baldry, Eric Brown, Simon Morden, Adam Roberts, James Kennedy, Stephen Palmer, Justina LA Robson, Tricia Sullivan and Lisa Tuttle. The book has cover art and six full colour interior illustrations by the very popular Jonathan Burton. There will be an exclusive e-book edition in which I interview all ten authors. The interviews will appear individually elsewhere, but this is the only place they will ever be collected together. Improbable Botany is published by Wayward, a London-based landscape, art and architecture practice – an award-winning collective of designers, artists and urban growers – through Kickstarter. There are various opportunities to buy just the book, or the book and limited edition A2 art prints as well. Find out more here.

Dangerous Score – out now in paperback

Last year I worked with author, actor, businessman and guest speaker Michael Bearcroft on a reworked, revised and updated version of his football novel, Dangerous Score. The book is out now in paperback, and here is the official blurb: Football hero Jason Clooney is riding high, until a date with a beautiful woman lands him in trouble with the media and into a battle with the criminal underworld. Now against a backdrop of an uncertain professional future, Jason has to confront disturbing revelations surrounding his new girlfriend’s family. From football action on the pitch to behind the scenes plotting, to battles with a criminal gang and constant media attention, all add to the toughest challenges he has ever faced in life and love, as a player and a man. And a few quotes from early reviews… “As nail biting as a Merseyside derby with just as many twists and turns! One not to miss….” Ian Ayre – Managing Director, Liverpool Football Club. “Dangerous Score is a fantastic, sexy thriller! A great read and I don’t like football!!!” Gina Price – Lead vocalist in Back To Broadway The Show “As a former Professional and Semi Professional player and coach, I enjoyed the story immensely.” Kevin Shoemake – Chief Exec Birmingham FA. Former player with Leyton Orient, Peterborough Utd, Kettering Town and Rushden & Diamonds “The sort of intriguing tale that you’d expect from an ITV Sunday night drama … so your mum might like it too!” 442 Magazine Find out more at Dangerous Score  

Literary Wonderlands published today

Just a quick note to mention that Literary Wonderlands is published today in the US. Click here for a preview including the Introduction and contents pages which show a complete list of the books and fictional worlds covered.

Literary Wonderlands cover

I am thrilled that I have received a high quality image for the cover of Literary Wonderlands.  I have written four chapters for the book, my chapters being on I, Robot by Isaac Asimov, Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens by J.M. Barrie, Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino, and Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson. Here is the official blurb: Literary Wonderlands A Journey Through the Greatest Fictional Worlds Ever Created by Laura Miller, General Editor. Contributions by Lev Grossman, John Sutherland, and Tom Shippey A glorious collection that delves deep into the inception, influences, and literary and historical underpinnings of nearly 100 of our most beloved fictional realms. Please note: The ebook edition is text-only, illustrations are not included. Literary Wonderlands is a thoroughly researched, wonderfully written, and beautifully produced book that spans two thousand years of creative endeavor. From Spenser’s The Fairie Queene to Wells’s The Time Machine to Murakami’s 1Q84 it explores the timeless and captivating features of fiction’s imagined worlds including the relevance of the writer’s own life to the creation of the story, influential contemporary events and philosophies, and the meaning that can be extracted from the details of the work. Each piece includes a detailed overview of the plot and a “Dramatis Personae.” Literary Wonderlands is a fascinating read for lovers of literature, fantasy, and science fiction. Laura Miller is the book’s general editor. Co-founder of Salon.com, where she worked as an editor and writer for 20 years, she is currently a books and culture columnist at Slate. A journalist and a critic, her work has appeared in the New Yorker, Harper’s, the Guardian, and the New York Times Book Review, where she wrote the “Last Word” column for two years. She is the author of The Magician’s Book: A Skeptic’s Adventures in Narnia and editor of the Salon.com Reader’s Guide to Contemporary Authors. Literary Wonderlands is published in the US on 1 November, and in the UK on 25 November.

Shoreline of Infinity interview with Simon Morden

I’m very pleased to announce that the new issue of Shoreline of Infinity (No.5 / Autumn 2016) is now out and features my extensive interview with the Philip K. Dick Award-winning author, Simon Morden. We talk about in-depth about his latest series of novels, which began earlier this year with Down Station and continues with The White City. The packed 132 page issue also features stories by Iain Maloney, Jack Schouten, Adam Connors, Nat Newman, Daniel Rosen, Thomas Clark, Rob Butler and Craig Thomson. SF Caledonia, the series on classic Scottish science fiction, continues with Monica Burns on George MacDonald’s Phantastes. There is a new comic from Stuart Beel, a freshly minted column by Ruth EJ Booth, and poetry from Andrew Blair and Ruth Aylett. Shoreline of Infinity is available both digitally and as a gorgeous physical magazine printed on real paper.  

Literary Wonderlands US hardcover

Literary Wonderlands again

Literary Wonderlands now has a release date on both sides of the Atlantic. It will be out in the US on 1 November, and on 25 November in the UK. Here is the blurb from Amazon: A glorious collection that delves deep into the inception, influences, and literary and historical underpinnings of nearly 100 of our most beloved fictional realms. Please note: The ebook edition is text-only, illustrations are not included. Literary Wonderlands is a thoroughly researched, wonderfully written, and beautifully produced book that spans two thousand years of creative endeavor. From Spenser’s The Fairie Queene to Wells’s The Time Machine to Murakami’s 1Q84 it explores the timeless and captivating features of fiction’s imagined worlds including the relevance of the writer’s own life to the creation of the story, influential contemporary events and philosophies, and the meaning that can be extracted from the details of the work. Each piece includes a detailed overview of the plot and a “Dramatis Personae.” Literary Wonderlands is a fascinating read for lovers of literature, fantasy, and science fiction. Laura Miller is the book’s general editor. Co-founder of Salon.com, where she worked as an editor and writer for 20 years, she is currently a books and culture columnist at Slate. A journalist and a critic, her work has appeared in the New Yorker, Harper’s, the Guardian, and the New York Times Book Review, where she wrote the “Last Word” column for two years. She is the author of The Magician’s Book: A Skeptic’s Adventures in Narnia and editor of the Salon.com Reader’s Guide to Contemporary Authors.

Literary Wonderlands pormo draught cover

Literary Wonderlands

I’m thrilled to announce that I am contributing four chapters to the book Literary Wonderlands. The book is being edited by Laura Miller (co-founder of Salon.com), and contributors include Adam Roberts, Julia Eccleshare, Lev Grossman and Lisa Tuttle. The book is to be published by Elwin Street Productions this autumn. Literary Wonderlands will ‘trace the power of the written word to transport us from ordinary time and space to previously unimaginable new worlds, exploring the most fantastical, mysterious and awe-inspiring lands ever created in literary fiction.’ My chapters are on Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens (JM Barrie), I, Robot (Isaac Asimov), Invisible Cities (Italo Calvino) and Snow Crash (Neal Stephenson). Here is a very rough promotional version of some possible cover artwork.

Boo Books limited edition of Dead Leaves, beautifully presented as a 1980s VHS tape

Interview: Dead Leaves & The Electric author, Andrew David Barker

Andrew David Barker was born in Derby, England, in 1975. I first heard about his novella, Dead Leaves, when He asked me to provide some developmental editorial input on a draft of the manuscript, which he did as a result of this interview, originally conducted with him for Amazing Stories. The interview coincided with the paperback publication of The Electric, Barker’s first novel, a ghost story steeped in a love of movies, especially genre flicks from the old Universal classics to The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Jaws. The Electric is also a nostalgic, bittersweet coming of age story, a resonant, evocative, deeply moving tale with shades of vintage Bradbury and King. It is quite an achievement. Dead Leaves is equally nostalgic, though a much gritter story about a group of teenage friends in Barker’s hometown of Darby in the early 1980s coming to terms with young adulthood while trying to find a copy of the horror film The Evil Dead at the height of Britain’s moral panic over ‘video nasties’. Dead Leaves it is not a horror story, but is an autumnal tale suited to October country, informed by a love of horror movies and the power that film can have to inspire a youthful imagination. It is perhaps therefore no surprise that Andrew David Barker is also a filmmaker …