I’m finally being allowed back out in public again! Coming (a frankly ridiculous) four years since I last appeared at an in-person event, I’m very happy to announce that I’ll be a guest at NERD FRIGHT FEST at the Boiler Shop in Newcastle on 9 October from 10am – 4pm. Tickets are available here. Hope to see you there!
It’s been quiet over here for a while as I’ve been busy finishing up AUTUMN: EXODUS, but I just wanted to post to mark the sad passing of the wonderful RAYMOND BRIGGS. Many people here in the UK will know him best for that Christmas staple THE SNOWMAN, or for FUNGUS THE BOGEYMAN, but to my mind his greatest work was WHEN THE WIND BLOWS.
I wrote about the film adaptation on this site several years ago – if you haven’t read the book or seen the film, I implore you to do so. Released in 1983 at the height of the (first) Cold War, it’s the tale of Jim and Hilda Briggs, an elderly married couple. As World War III looms on the horizon, they make preparations in accordance with the UK government’s woefully inadequate PROTECT AND SURVIVE guidance, fully expecting the next conflict to be similar to the last World War they remember.
Briggs had a unique and immediately recognisable style that was equally suited to heartwarming and heartbreaking stories. WHEN THE WIND BLOWS is a masterpiece of apocalyptic writing.
While I wait to be able to share with you the HUGE news I’m currently sitting on, I’ve been looking back at a few of my older books. Last weekend I managed to inadvertently wind up a climate change denier talking about STRAIGHT TO YOU, which was interesting. Never mind that a) the book is about the sun dying, not the earth’s climate changing, and b) the temperature here in the UK hit 40 degrees centigrade this week for the first time since records began, apparently I’m in the pocket of the WEF, I’m a corporate pig for having worked in a bank after leaving school, and I’m being paid by dark forces to push forward a narrative. You couldn’t make it up. Except, that’s exactly what I do for a living!
Anyway, at the risk of enraging another group of conspiracy theorists, today I’d like to talk about aliens.
I find it hard to believe, but it’s 10 years this week since I relaunched Infected Books and released TRUST, my ‘anti-science-fiction’ novel.
I shut down the original iteration of IB after the AUTUMN and HATER novels were acquired by Macmillan. IB was born in the early days of the Internet and independent publishing and it proved to be very successful. I couldn’t resist the idea of returning to indie publishing with the knowledge and experience I’d picked up from working with traditional publishers. It’s proved to be a hugely satisfying adventure, breathing life into more niche novels and projects that might otherwise not have seen the light of day.
“TRUST is a slow-burner and all the richer for it. The layers of characters and details of the story play out perfectly when matched with an ending you’re not likely to forget. It’s an outstanding novel, delivers in more ways than one, and is worthy of a place on the discerning fan’s bookshelf. 10/10″ —Starburst Magazine
“TRUST is the latest in a long line of thought provoking, intelligent novels… For new readers this is an ideal starting point to discover this major British talent who despite his innovations and successes of the last decade, you get the feeling is only just getting started.” —Shadowlocked
“Forget the idea that this is an anti-science fiction novel. It has aliens in it and it’s a treatise on how the ordinary person copes when the world which they are familiar with changes beyond all recognition. In my mind, that makes it very simply, a very good science fiction novel.” —Geek Syndicate
In a recent post I bemoaned the fact I have a backlog of too many ideas and not enough time. Your responses were reassuring, and it’s good to know I’m not the only one who struggles with an off-kilter inspiration-to-output ratio. My first overseas trip for a few years has done nothing at all to help that situation. If anything, it’s made it worse. But in a good way.
Lisa and I managed to visit to Lanzarote a couple of weeks ago. It was a holiday we’d attempted to take three times previously, only to be derailed at various stages by pandemics, heart attacks, budget airlines and dodgy travel firms. The world of 2022 remains a horrifically volatile place, and it felt indulgent taking a holiday when so many people are struggling, but it also felt good that we were able to pause for a while and soak up new surroundings.
It’s always invigorating to be able to look at the world from a different angle. It makes me realise just how small an area our lives typically operate within. What’s normal to you in your day-to-day might seem bizarre or extreme to me, and what I think of as mundane might be the height of excitement to someone else. When I was very, very, very young I was convinced that holidays worked on some kind of exchange system – you went and lived someone else’s life for a week or two, and at the same time they came and tried out your world for size. My tiny, pre-school brain had assumed that everyone led the same kind of lives, they just happened to do it in different places. I should add, by the way, that this was just a fleeting misapprehension, and that by the time I reached school age I’d realised that swapping two weeks at the seaside for a fortnight living in our semi-detached house in the middle of Birmingham would have been a bum deal for whoever owned the caravan we’d been staying in.
My point is, we sometimes have a tendency to assume that our lives are normal/typical/as good as things get.
I think the pandemic and the various lockdowns most of us went through have further distorted this perspective. A week sitting by the pool in a quiet little resort felt at times like a trip to another planet, non-stop brain food. Who’d have thought that a coach trip through the lava fields of Lanzarote would have provided inspiration for a key scene in the upcoming AUTUMN: EXODUS?
I guess I just wanted to post this as a counterpoint to my previous post about ideas. I doubt that any writer will ever use up their entire reservoir of ideas, no matter how long and prolific their career. My beef was with the onward march of time, not my overactive imagination! Finally getting away again was a welcome reminder of the unquestionable importance to me of looking further than the end of my nose and grabbing every opportunity that comes up. Better to have a thousand unused ideas and have lived, than to have worked non-stop and be scratching around for things to say.
I watched a great video on YouTube today which happened to contain a quote from Irvine Welsh that summed up the point of this post. Unfortunately I only have an auto-translated version of a Ukrainian translation (if anyone can direct me to the source of the quote I’d be grateful), but here it is: “It’s only when you start travelling that you understand what’s wrong with the place where you were born and raised.”
Actually, I have somewhere in the region of 240 documented writing ideas at present. And here’s a sobering thought: I’ve probably got more ideas left than time.
Many years back – I’m not sure exactly when, but it’s definitely more than a decade ago – I decided to create a document I could use to record my thoughts wherever and whenever inspiration decided to strike. I kept it in the cloud so that I could access it on the move, and I’ve added to it regularly since then. Some of these ideas are just one or two word sparks, a single line of dialogue or a snatch of conversation perhaps, while others are more fully formed.
Until recently, this document – which, with great originality, I titled ‘Ideas’ – was a source of great pride. Now, though, it’s in danger of becoming a source of disappointment and shame. Okay, I’m deliberately over-egging the language here, but there’s a serious point to be made. I was in my thirties (just about) when I started the document, and I felt like I would go on forever. There was no need to rush to get things written, because I had decades and decades ahead of me, in which I’d write countless novels and short stories. Well, hopefully that’s still the case, but only a handful of the 240+ ideas I have stored up have so far seen the light of day.
Writing is by turn an exhilarating and infuriating vocation. The writer often has surprisingly little control over what they get done and when. I’ve had fully formed ideas that have been written and edited in no time at all, and (several) complete novels that have each taken over a year to write but which haven’t been published and most likely never will. My average time for writing a novel start to finish is around six months so, using that as a starting point, it would likely take me longer than a century to get everything in my ideas vault written, and that’s not taking account of any future flashes of inspiration that might strike.
I think I need to try a different approach.
Another frustration of mine is that I frequently forget to post online. If I’m honest, it’s not so much that I forget, sometimes I choose not to do it, and that’s often because I’m too focused on finishing what I’m currently writing to look up from the screen. That can be a good thing, but I’m increasingly of the opinion that, in my case, it’s not.
I’m thinking of spending a period of time each week working on a random selection from my document, then posting it here for a month or three. I have no idea what will come of it, but it will definitely be an interesting experiment that’ll a) give me chance to branch out and try a few new things, and b) give you something new to read for free each month – a short story or novella, perhaps. Think of it as a Patreon perk, but without having to pay!
Before I commit, just let me know – is that something you’d keep coming back here for? What kind of things would you like to see?