The Story Behind the Story

Upcoming4me is a website that looks at the processes behind the writing and asks authors to explain how they ended up with their finished product. It’s the kind of place where you can go for a quick browse and find yourself engrossed for hours. Here’s my piece on why I wrote The Beauty.

The official publication date has been set for The Beauty on 1st September and some great reviews have been appearing. For instance, this Goodreads review by Rafaela Ferraz, is every writer’s dream of a review. I think she really connected with the story. (Phew!)

Blogger By Lulu With Love also really enjoyed the writing, and Rick Chapman found the novella resonated with observations about his own life.

Thanks to everyone who has reviewed it so far, and if you are thinking of getting a copy you can preorder it directly from Unsung Stories here.

Interview Swap: Ian Hocking

With new publisher Unsung Stories about to launch their first titles any day now this seems like a good time to ask a few questions of Déjà Vu author Ian Hocking on this blog, and answer a few in return over at his blog.

You know a good book by the amount of times you think about it, and compare other books to it, favourably or otherwise. Deja Vu establishes a universe of doubts in the face of implacable technology. It merges cyber stories with human fallibilities. I’ve seen it done since, but rarely done as well.

Here’s a conversation I recently had with Ian about his book:

This is a new edition of Deja Vu, and it’s so well-paced and absolutely focused. What’s changed for this edition?

Déjà Vu is one of those books that just won’t go away. It’s strange to keep coming back to it; the person who wrote the first edition was twenty-three years old (or thereabouts), and it still contains a lot of enthusiastic energy. What I’ve tried to do in this quintessential (and final, I hope!) edition is tidy up the motivations, make certain things clearer, and sharpen the story. One of my writerly traits–which I like to think is a lesson from poetry, but it probably just laziness–is to hold back from explaining everything that happens in a novel. My preference would to have about 60% of the mysteries/puzzles tidied up by the end (just enough for the reader to have faith that I’ve got an answer for all of them) and then have some mysteries left to the reader. I think that’s a much more literary experience, and it gives a story much more power. But, frankly, this makes the work less commercial. So the major change between this edition and the first one is surface clarity; I make it much easier on the reader.

I think you’ve got the way the technology integrates with the plot without overshadowing it down to a fine art. It doesn’t feel unrealistic at any point. How difficult was it to write the tech? Just the thought of writing that aspect well fills me with dread…

I’m relieved that you think so. My general rule with technology–be it a time machine or a chip in a brain–is that the reader is much more interested in the effect of it than how it works. On the other hand, you’ve got to pay your dues as a writer by giving the impression that you understand what you’re talking about. I know little about physics, but I know enough, I think, to give the impression that I know more–and fiction is all about impression. Artificial intelligence, by contrast, is actually something I’ve studied, taught and researched (there’s an introductory text out there called ‘Down to the Wire’, where I write briefly about some of the issues). On that basis, I can tell you that I’m more confident in a time machine being invented than an AI like Ego! But the main thing is: if I find the technology interesting, I should be able to make 99% of my readership feel interested by writing about it properly, otherwise I’m not doing my job.

How did you feel about revisiting the book?

It’s a strange feeling. The story is fast paced, and there’s lots going on, which helps when revisiting prose for perhaps the fiftieth time. I guess it’s a testament that it’s a book I would enjoy reading myself if I weren’t the author. It’s still hard, though; and I say that as a person who enjoys editing for the most part. The overriding feeling, if I’m honest, is anxiety. Déjà Vu sold a large number of copies in its previous edition and I was wary of screwing it up. Any one of my editorial changes might have done that.

The issue of identity is a key part of the novel for me – father, daughter, genius, victim, killer – was that an issue you wanted to address right from the word go, or did the themes of the novel sneak up on you?

It’s fashionable for writers to say their books are about identity–really, they should be if they’re about humanity at all. I would say that mine is, but only consciously with regard to the identity of Saskia Brandt. There is a sense in which we are all creatures of our experience–our memories–but that we imagine ourselves to be largely independent of those memories. People suffering from temporary memory loss after a blow to the head, for instance, are still basically themselves even if they can’t remember any episodic memories. What if you found yourself in that state but confronted with episodic memories that tell you you’re a bad person? That’s the crack that runs through the psyche of Saskia Brandt, at least for much of this novel.

How well do you know Saskia Brandt?

A very interesting question! I find her easy to write in the sense that, given a situation, I’m confident about how she would behave. I rarely change her dialogue, and I enjoy any scene in which she’s present. A scene with Saskia going to the supermarket would be interesting to write simply because she sees the world differently (I won’t say why, to avoid spoilers), and that creates a background hum of conflict and interest. I don’t really know what she looks like, either; there’s no clear photorealistic image in my head. I have a strong sense that she’s based, physically, on someone I saw in real life or on the TV when I was growing up, and that one day I’ll come across a picture of the person or actress and think, ‘Aha! There she is!’.

There are elements of her back story that I’ve deliberately avoided making explicit to myself. That goes back to a comment I heard from Chris Carter, the guy who created The X-Files. A journalist asked him if he kept a ‘bible’ with detailed backstories on Mulder and Scully–things like their marital status, high school, favourite pet, and all the events of the series so far. Carter said he did not because he thought it would stifle the creativity of the writing team. I think there’s a lot to that. The way The X-Files worked in terms of its arc was quite surprising and always (in my opinion) fresh. I don’t want to be in a situation where I’m working out ways to drip feed a reader information about a character; the story must always serve itself, and if the reader finds out things along the way, all well and good.

I was really glad to read on Twitter that you’re writing again. Does your heart belong to science fiction or will you be exploring other genres?

It’s funny, when I gave up writing for a few months I was the happiest I’d ever been. It felt like such a weight off. The problem is that I try to take it professionally, and that’s difficult to do when you already have a profession. Not that I’m complaining about my profession (academic). In terms of my genre allegiance, I love books that take me places, and while the literary fiction genre is great to read–I’ve been reading Chekhov, Mansfield, Lessing and others on my Creative Writing MA–books function as escapist, cool vehicles of thought for me. Though I’ve written some comedy fiction too, I’m very proud to be called a science fiction author.

Thanks Ian.

You can pre-order both Déjà Vu and my novella, The Beauty, at the usual places, include the Unsung Stories store.

My interview with Ian about The Beauty can be found at his blog.

Buy Beauty, Rinse, Repeat

So you can now order my horror fantasy novella The Beauty directly from the Unsung website, and that means you can also order Unsung’s other launch title, Deja Vu by Ian Hocking.

I have a long history with Deja Vu. I edited it when it was first published in paper form, and I loved it back then, but over the years Ian and other editors have worked hard to make it the svelte, speedy sci-fi whippet that you can now buy. It’s a perfect example of how to combine pace, action, and idea without sacrificing character. Now that’s not easy to do.

Go seek out both The Beauty and Deja Vu at the Unsung store.

The Beauty Cover Art

If you review stuff and you’re interested in a review copy please get in touch.

Spirited Monsters

 

Fox Spirit Books will shortly be publishing a coffee table book filled with stories and artwork on the theme of European Monsters, and the Table of Contents has been announced. My story, “A Very Modern Monster” will be in most excellent company.

I’m all about monsters at the moment as my new novel Skein Island deals with a monster that lives on an island off the coast of Devon. In fact, the Devon connection is strong with “A Very Modern Monster” as well, as the action takes place on that familiar yet never comfortable place, Exmoor.

Exmoor looking prettier than it does in my story.

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I’ll put up more details of both projects as they’re released. I think my post-apocalyptic novella The Beauty (which is also – you guessed it – set in Devon) might be first up to the plate though. It’s going to be a busy summer.

I’ll just add that I’m involved with Den of Geek’s new book club; I’ll be reviewing a book related to the world of film and TV every month, and the first choice was Tom Baker’s brilliant autobiography Who on Earth is Tom Baker? If you’ve read it I’d love to know your thoughts on it.

 

 

Unsung Beauty

 

I’m beginning to feel the urge to spread the word about my new novella. The Beauty will be available soonish, at the rate this year is speeding by, and I think it’s going to look stunning, judging by the effort and skill Unsung Stories are putting into it. I’ll put up a cover and more details when I have them, but for now here’s a link to the page on the appropriate website, and a bit of the blurb.

I always wanted to write a post-apocalyptic story, and I’m really pleased with this one.

*

Somewhere away from the cities and towns, a group of men and boys gather around the fire each night to listen to their stories in the Valley of the Rocks. For when the women are all gone the rest of your life is all there is for everyone. The men are waiting to pass into the night.

The story shall be told to preserve the past. History has gone back to its aural roots and the power of words is strong. Meet Nate, the storyteller, and the new secrets he brings back from the woods. William rules the group with youth and strength, but how long can that last? And what about Uncle Ted, who spends so much time out in the woods?

Hear the tales, watch a myth be formed. For what can man hope to achieve in a world without women? When the past is only grief how long should you hold on to it? What secrets can the forest offer to change it all? 

Discover the Beauty.

 220px-Valley_of_the_Rocks_from_Hollerday_Hill

67 Short Stories Later

 

Please forgive the excessive trumpet blowing, but it occurred to me that when my next short story is published it will be my 67th* to make it into print/online. I don’t think there’s a list of them all… until now. Yes, this is the list. Here they are, in chronological order.

 

1. The Message. Shotsmag. October 2003.

2. Strings. Unlikely Stories. November 2003.

3. Legs. Unlikely Stories. November 2003.

4. Playtime. Unlikely Stories. November 2003.

5. Geoffrey Says. Shred of Evidence. April 2004.

6. Caterpillar. The Laura Hird Showcase. May 2004.

7. Sieve. The Guardian. (Finalist in the Short Short Story competition) May 2004.

8. Tip of the Tongue. Fragment. May 2004.

9. Happiness Comes With a Paper Umbrella and a Measure of Grenadine. Pulp.net. Sept 2004.

10. Stevie Sang. Dec 2004. In Our Own Words Vol 6.

11. The Swimming Parasite. Whispers of Wickedness. Jan 2005.

12. Spitting Wasps. Opium. Jan 2005.

13. The Ninth Ocean. Project M. Jan 2005.

14. Sebastian Bugs. Word Riot. Mar 2005.

15. Voice Mail. Scifantastic. Aug 2005.

16. Trick of the Light. Astounding Tales. Aug 2005.

17. Chamberlain and the Art of Wooing. Spoiled Ink. Sept 2005.

18. Hot and Cold. The Barfing Frog. Jan 2006.

19. Intuition. Byzarium. Feb 2006.

20. The Fabulous Super Guy. Shotsmag. Feb 2006.

21. Penzance. Demolition. Mar 2006.

22. Legoland. Scifantastic. Mar 2006.

23. Witchcraft in the Harem. Sein und Werden. Apr 2006.

24. Zaza’s Place. Flashing in the Gutters. Jun 2006.

25. Ducklings. East of the Web. Sept 2006.

26. Fate, Freddo and the Number 4. Small Voices, Big Confessions. Oct 2006.

27. A Loving Heart. McSweeney’s Internet Tendency. (Runner up in the 13 Writing Prompts competition). Dec 2006.

28. A Craving for Pate. Tales From the Asylum. June 2007.

29. Burning Jane. Espresso Fiction. June 2007.

30. Births, Marriages and Deaths. Shred of Evidence. June 2007.

31. The Bengalo Boys. Fear and Trembling. June 2007.

32. In The Clouds. Serendipity. June 2007.

33. Jelly Park. Drabblecast. (Drabblecast Story of the Year) Dec 2007.

34. Paint. Storyglossia. Jan 2008.

35. 1926 in Brazilian Football. Word Riot. May 2008.

36. For Rosebud. Fusion Fragment. Jul 2008.

37. Right Time, Right Place. A Fly in Amber. Jul 2008.

38. Richard of York. The Written Word. Jul 2008.

39. Overturned. (With Neil Ayres). Subtle Edens/Elastic Press. Nov 2008.

40. The Red Man. Twisted Tongue. Feb 2009.

41. The Holmesian Defence. Powder Burn Flash. May 2009.

42. Flushed. 3AM. Jun 2009.

43. Strands. Ink-Filled Page. (Nominated for the Pushcart Prize) Sept 2009.

44. Boxes. Halfway Down the Stairs. Sept 2009.

45. Wingspan. The Future Fire. Sept 2009.

46. Go Beep. Drabblecast. Sept 2010.

47. Siren. Flashquake. May 2011.

48. Babyhead. Drabblecast. July 2011.

49. Penelope Napolitano and the Butterflies. Strange Horizons. Sept 2011.

50. Lydia Before. Smokelong. Mar 2012.

51.  The Causeway. Polluto. Apr 2012.

52. Midnight Midnight. Jupiter. June 2012.

53. First Up. Big Pulp. July 2012.

54. Songs for Dead Children. First Book of Classical Horror/Megazanthus Press. July 2012.

55. An Alpine Escape. Better than Fiction/Lonely Planet. Dec 2012.

56. Green River. The BFS Journal. (Runner up in the BFS short story competition) Dec 2012.

57. Ice Cold, Red Hot. Sein und Werden. Feb 2013.

58. Rock Song. Kaleidotrope. June 2013.

59. The Wandering Scent. Rustblind and Silverbright/Eibonvale Press. July 2013.

60. Castle of the Slave. Perihelion. Aug 2013.

61. Waiting Room. Horror Without Victims/Megazanthus Press. Aug 2013.

62. Owls and Pussycats. Litro. Oct 2013.

63. Words, Recorded. Per Contra. Oct 2013.

64. Linkless. Perihelion. Jan 2014.

65. White Cards. Vending Machine Press. Feb 2014.

66. Endless Art. Bourbon Penn. Mar 2014.

67. Glum Dreams. 3 Lobed Burning Eye. Mar 2014.

 

I’ve given the links for those still available to read for free online.

 

*This list made more sense when I thought I was approaching my 60th short story publication. But I’d forgotten some. ** Anyway, this is the updated list. I’ll try to keep it up to date from now on.

 

** It’s a good thing I’m not a mathematician.

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