2020: The Year of Paper Boats

Let’s sum up the year! Yes, okay, let’s not. Let’s not try. I haven’t had the kind of year that I’d want to wade through again, even in a sparkly retrospective type way, and I’m guessing you haven’t either.

Leaving all the obvious things about the year aside, then, the getting published side of things went well, thanks to the magnificent editors and publishers I’ve worked with who fought hard to send stories out there. There have been problems and delays, but they have the will to see new books in the world, to champion them, and to make plans about them. They all deserve medals, or at the very least a good break over Christmas.

I had a novel published this year, my fourth effort with Unsung Stories, and it was a galactic adventure. I love science fiction, and I love its history – the books, films and TV programs that shaped me, that came along at exactly the right time for me, and all left their marks upon me. They have changed the way I see SF, and see the world, and I wanted to write a book about that. The plants and the orange string turned up later, and all bundled together they made Greensmith. It’s a glorious book to hold, to look at. I put all my Unsungs in a row, four books in six years, and stared at them for a while. Gorgeous.

My unsungs

It took a few years to get Greensmith from my imagination to the printed page; The Secret Life of Fungi was a project that took no more than months. Researching the book got me through the first lockdown (all the books I’d requested from the local library could no longer be returned, which was very handy) and I wrote it quickly, trying to capture the same sense of amazement I felt about the fungal kingdom. (If you don’t know much about it, you will be astonished, I promise you.) It ended up being quite a personal book too, which took me by surprise. I think my fiction can be challenging, but I wanted this to be the kind of book you can simply pick up and start reading without knowing anything about the subject, or with any particular love for it, so it’s made me really happy to see a few comments and reviews along those lines about it. I’m very glad I wrote it. It kept me good company in the worst of lockdown.

Short stories! My mini-collection in the Shadows series (by Black Shuck books) was called Fearsome Creatures, and it contains a couple of stories that I think are among my best. From wolves to beasts to zombies to mummies, I tackled some of my favourite horror monsters in those pages. I think it got a bit forgotten about between the squash of the other books, so please give it a look if you haven’t already. It’s less than a pound for the kindle right now.

I also had stories in a few anthologies, including Midsummer Eve (also published by Black Shuck) and London Centric, published by NewCon Press, who rallied to the challenge of raising money for the NHS by putting out a dream of an anthology, filled with impressive contributors, called Stories of Hope and Wonder. And Swan River Press’ Uncertainties 4 (a great series) contained my story ‘Reflection, Refraction, Dispersion’ – a ghost story set in stadiums around the world.

Getting to be published in an edition of Beneath Ceaseless Skies next to Yoon Ha Lee was a real high point – ‘The Spoils’ is a longer piece for me about a rite of dissection of a huge tunnel-dwelling creature, and what the people involved do with their treasures. And, on the other side of my usual word length, there’s ‘Lump Sum Love’, which appeared at Daily Science Fiction, and is a love letter about sacrifice which might be less willingly undertaken than it first appears.

Non-fiction-wise, I wrote for Interzone throughout the year, muttering about theme parks and slow worms and time machines. I’ve already written the column that will appear in January 2021. It’s about museums, just in case you were worried I was about to start nailing down some of the major questions of science fiction and fantasy writing any time soon.

What else is coming up in 2021? Well, a few things were delayed this year, including the US edition of The Loosening Skin, which includes a bonus novella set in that same skin-shedding world. Titan Books will also publish my put-back short story collection: From the Neck Up. We’ve finished putting that together and I’m excited to see that out in the world – I think that’ll be towards the end of next year.

The first big thing will be the publication of Skyward Inn by Solaris. It’s available to request on Netgalley now. I’ve put the cover up before but I like it so much I’m about to put it up again:

Skyward Inn!

That’ll be out in the world in March 2021, which still sounds far away but will be here in no time at all. It’s a book about community, and family, and has a fifth act that really can’t be described and you should put your fingers in your ears if someone tries.

What else? There will be short stories, translations, and other things, and I’ll keep you posted. I’ll end the year with a blog post on my favourite reads of 2020. I think, like many people, I’ve struggled to focus on reading this year but I’ve been lucky to find some books that have demanded my full attention whether I’ve wanted to give it or not. It’ll be great to sing their praises before 2020 draws to a close.

Having stories published this year has felt like making paper boats and setting them out on the water, not knowing exactly what kind of weather they’ll face. That’s always true, I suppose. But there’s been a vulnerability to the stories, all our stories, this year – what do they mean? How long can they last, in these treacherous conditions? Paper boats are so light and fragile. Even so, many of us – writers, creators, editors, agents, publishers – tried to craft boats with care this year, and sent them out, against the unpredictable, the unknowable. Thanks to everyone who did.

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