Flash blog: Good news, bad news

So the good news is, my story ‘Second Skin’ has been selected as the first featured story on SciFi Ideas. You can read it here: http://www.scifiideas.com/related/featured-story-second-skin/
The bad news is, after an accident involving a mug of tea, my laptop seems to have gone for a Burton. And, because I was careless at maintaining my backups, it’s taken some of my work with it. I think this qualifies as an Epic Fail. Although, at least my poor level of productivity recently means that I haven’t lost that much stuff… so the two fails kind of cancel each other out?

Oh well, shit happens, and I’m not going to make that mistake again in a hurry. Back to the desktop then to try to recreate my latest edits. I’ll leave you with a suitable image.

Triple Facepalm

Book Club

I’ve realised lately that, for somebody who professes to love literature, I don’t read nearly enough books. Partly it’s the fault of the myriad other demands on my time, of course, but it’s also partly internet addiction, for which there’s really no excuse. I’m trying to tweet less and read more, both in and out of my chosen genre of fantasy. So here I am, on the, er, internet, to share with you a quick review of some of my recent reads.

1) Within a Budding Grove, by Marcel Proust (Vol. 2 of In Search of Lost Time)

My 2013 reading project is to work my way through this colossus of literature, one of the longest novels ever written. I got through volume 1, Swann’s Way, fairly quickly, but I have to admit to struggling with the second book (different translation, which may not have helped). It’s not a book which makes it easy for the reader. There are many passages of wonderfully evocative description waiting for you – if you can wade through the endless pages of repetition as the procrastinating protagonist agonises over afternoon tea. Meanwhile the plot progresses at a pace best described as geological. Think I may take a break before tackling volume 3.

2) One Day, by David Nicholls

I haven’t finished this one yet but I’m very much enjoying it so far – the first book in a long time I’ve felt compelled to continue reading whilst walking up the stairs. Not perhaps the most original tale, although the structure of showing a snapshot of the main characters’ lives on every 15th July over the course of twenty years is pretty neat. But originality doesn’t matter so much when you’ve got such a well-written and sharply observed story, and it’s one of those rare books that makes you feel you actually know the characters. It’s like I could invite Emma and Dexter out to the pub tomorrow night; I’d get annoyed at some of their foibles but I’d still be happy they were my friends.

Edit: I finished reading it. Devastated.


3) World War Z, by Max Brooks

So I could have illustrated World War Z with a picture of a rotting zombie. But, well, you know...

I could have used a picture of a rotting zombie. But, well, you know…

Second time of reading this one: the first time round I devoured it greedily, like the living dead on some glistening entrails. This time I’m reading it more slowly and savouring the saltiness of the satire. I love the way Brooks uses the device of the zombocalypse to poke fun at just about every nation on earth (the Israelis with their huge anti-zombie fence, the South Africans dusting off their dodgy apartheid-era emergency plans) and mercilessly lampoon modern life. There’s a sequence comparing the jobs people did before and after the titular war which is a bit too close to the bone: the man who previously did a meaningless corporate job now gets more satisfaction from sweeping chimneys. Not sure what I’m going to make of the movie but the original book comes highly recommended.

A few extracts

This last week I’ve been dealing with a lot of real life stuff and I’m not feeling up to writing a full-on blog post. But I have been entering quite a few writing competitions lately, so I thought I’d share some excerpts here which will (I hope) whet your appetite for more.

1. ‘The Gorge’ – non-fiction travel writing on the theme ‘A Narrow Escape’

Sicilian road designers have an approach best described as whimsical. They enjoy creating motorways with no road markings, changing speed limits at random, and leaving important turnoffs entirely un-signposted. And sometimes, they try to kill you.

2. ‘The Muse’ – short story, a venture into ‘literary’ fiction

I’m standing in front of a three-quarters profile portrait of myself. Picture me is gazing out of a window. On the surface of the window is inscribed a poem, about me – my sandy hair, my pale skin, and my ever-changing eyes. The effect is rather like the vertiginous sensation of looking in a mirror with another mirror on the opposite wall which reflects my own reflection. A man in a red velvet jacket comes over and joins me in front of the picture. He looks at the painting, then he glances at me, then back to the painting… and then he does a proper double-take, like something out of an old comedy routine.

3) ‘Dear Mary’ – a short story on the theme ’65 Not Out’

Dear Mary,

You may be quite surprised to receive this letter, as we haven’t seen each other for such a long time. Although perhaps I’m not the only one to suddenly get back in touch. Maybe quite a few people have been coming out of the woodwork lately, to offer their support and say things like ‘You know, I never really liked him’. And maybe a few others, sadly narrow-minded, have gone the other way and stopped inviting you round for tea.

But that’s just speculation, because I don’t really know anything about your life any more. How many years has it been? Far too many. It’s amazing how they just slip away. Whenever I look in the mirror, I still almost expect to see a pretty girl with flyaway hair and a few freckles. It’s always a bit of a shock when some middle-aged woman with a stern grey crew-cut looks back. Well, I say middle-aged. I’m sixty-five now, retirement age, so I guess I have become old. I turned gradually from a fresh young thing into an old maid, as one by one all my friends got married and started families, while each September I returned to school and introduced myself to a new class as ‘Miss Keown’, not ‘Mrs So-and-so’.

Rough diamonds and random penguins

Last year, I ‘came out’ as a writer to the wider world. Ever since then, a lot of people have asked me questions like ‘so when can buy your book in Waterstone’s?’ On the one hand, it’s great being able to talk about my passion. On the other hand, I sometimes get a bit concerned that I have accidentally created an expectation of imminent best-sellerdom which I am vanishingly unlikely to meet. Most people – including, until very recently, me – have very little idea of how the publishing industry works, and what a long time it takes to get your book out. Even if, as my colleague in project management put it, you pass every gate review first time. So, for the benefit of everyone who has asked me when my book is going to be released in Kindle and trade paperback, here’s my brief overview of the process.

The first stage, stage 0 if you will, is to write the damn book. See previous blog post for details.

The next stage, where I am now, is to find an agent. This involves several rounds of submissions, discussions, rewrites… it could be as quick as 3 months, but it’ll likely take a fair bit longer.

At stage 2, you can relax (hah!) while the agent takes it round some publishers and tries to get you a deal. This stage can actually be quite quick, if the publishers like what they see. If not, well, back to the previous stage to re-re-edit the manuscript. Or start over at stage 0 with a new book.

Once someone’s agreed to publish the book, it’s another 12-18 months before it will actually appear in the shops. What takes so long? Well, a final edit, proof-reading, type-setting, cover design, marketing, and probably quite a lot of waiting around while the publisher spends time on other, more important books.

What does this mean for my humble manuscript, The Heartland of the Winter? Well, IF all goes to plan, then the earliest I could expect a deal would be late this year or early next, which would lead to publication in late 2014 at the very earliest, more likely 2015. And of course, I may fail at any point after stage 0. So I’m not planning the launch party just yet (well, okay, I am, in the way some single women plan their own weddings).

Now, if you’re thinking ‘gosh, that sounds like an awful lot of time and effort, isn’t there a quicker way?’ well, yes there is. What I’ve described is the ‘traditional’ route, what you need to do if you want to be published by Random Penguin or one of the other big boys and get paid an advance. But there are alternatives: smaller publishing houses who will accept unagented authors and get the book out quicker, but don’t offer such a good financial deal; ‘vanity’ publishers who’ll charge you to see your name in print; and the increasingly-popular DIY option.

My book could be available right now if I’d chosen to self-publish. Why didn’t I? Well, the great thing about self-publishing is that anyone can do it. And the bad thing about self-publishing is that anyone can do it. It’s very difficult to get your work to stand out from the dung-heap, especially as you have no professional support for things like editing, marketing, and design.

A book is a bit like a diamond: it comes out of the ground rough and dirty, and then needs careful cutting and endless rounds of polishing. All that long process described above not only selects the best stones in the first place, it polishes them until they sparkle, and it puts them in a setting which shows them off to best effect and makes them likelier to catch the eye. So I’m prepared to wait, and keep trying, and wait some more, and keep trying, to give my work the best chance of success.