Word on the Street is...

...that I've got another post up on Patreon. Alas! It's locked to patrons only. I KNOW. Walls are coming up ALL OVER THE INTERNET. It's a sign of the end-times, lemme tell ya.

In that latest Patreon post, I talk about:

  • Some publishing news regarding Extinction Game Three.
  • Progress on writing it, so far. 
  • To chapbook, or not to chapbook.

Never fear, I'm not locking away every blog post. I'll still be posting here in my generally erratic, when-I-get-round-to-it way. But why can't I share everything with you, you cry? Well, my friend, you need to be on the inside track these days. In with the in-crowd. Moving with the movers. So ask yourself: are you on the inside? Because if you are, you're already a patron.


Dear Readers, It's Time We Talked

So I thought it might be time for a little chat. Just between you and I, you understand. A little tête-à-tête, as it were, about the future and where you and I see ourselves between now and then.

I appreciate your loyalty. I've enjoyed and been deeply touched by your occasional emails telling me how much you liked this or that book. I've been even more touched by those of you who have chosen to give me the occasional small (and even not so small) contribution through the 'buy the writer a coffee' link. It makes me feel, in some small but important way, like what I do matters.

And things have been looking up: Newcon Press's decision to publish Ghost Frequencies sometime in the next year or so gladdens my heart, particularly since it's a terrific story - one of the best I've come up with, in my opinion.

In fact, I feel like my writing has grown from strength to strength over these last few years in particular. That knowledge, unsurprisingly, makes me want to write more - lots more. And there is a lot more to write.

But there are just one or two pesky realities getting in the way.

I've been coasting these last few years, financially speaking, on income from my ten books from Tor UK. And while I'm still a long, long way from being impoverished, I'm at the stage where I need to look ahead and decide sooner rather than later whether I can afford to keep on writing full-time. Or even part-time, depending on how you measure the hours.

Now, all this may change if or when I get a book deal for Echogenesis. Right now I make a little income from book doctoring and mentoring, but such work tends to be sporadic and it takes up a lot of my time. This is unfortunate, because the one thing I think I'm really good at is writing science fiction. I'd like to write lots more of it, and I'd like for you to get to read it. But I also need to eat and keep a roof over my head. I'd also like to be able to afford to attend the occasional Convention. And buy my dog Cooper the occasional tasty treat.

I also know some of you would really, really like to see a third book in the Extinction Game series.

So here's something you don't know: in August, I wrote the first draft of the follow-up to Survival Game in just three and a half weeks. I did partly in order to see if I could write a full draft of a book in less than four weeks. I also did it knowing that the chances of it getting professionally published are vanishingly small. Almost by definition, it would either be self-published or put out by a small-press.

And that's fine. But time is money, and if you want to see it come fully to fruition, I'm going to need your help. A fast first-draft is one thing, but the long, hard slog of the second draft is another, and always takes a great deal longer. And then there's the third draft, and beta-readers, and further revisions, and so forth - a process that can easily eat up most of a year. Not to mention that while all this effort will be going on, it won't be bringing me in any money.

For this reason and others, I've been thinking hard about sites like Patreon recently. I've seen really quite a lot of writers signed up to it, some very well-known indeed, some less so, but all of them skilled and talented people nonetheless.

As you know, I recently ran a poll for what you'd like me to write next, and space opera came out far ahead of everything else. Well, I love writing space opera, and I fully intend to write more of it (and indeed I already have, in Echogenesis, a planetary adventure in the classic mode).

But before I get to that, there's a few things I'd like to do first.

First, I'd like to finish that third Extinction book. Then, I'd like to write and finish Proxy, a near-to-intermediate future cyberpunkish thriller about identity theft and body-swapping.

Proxy isn't space opera, but between you and me it's a great idea. I have a twelve-thousand word outline for it that is, frankly, awesome.

So here's the deal. My plan is to write Extinction Game Book Three, then write Proxy (or possibly both at the same time), then start work on outlining and planning that stinking great space opera (and possibly series) you all want me to. Which, trust me, will be epic.

But I can't do it without your direct support. Your direct financial support. Especially regarding Extinction Game book three: if I were to self-publish it, it would need edited, and editing costs money. So would a book cover.

And that, most likely, along with everything else, means Patreon.

There probably wouldn't be a great amount in terms of monthly rewards. I don't do chapbooks, I'm horrible at doing either podcasts or video. I am good at sitting down in a damn chair and writing in silence for hours. I guess I could shift my blog writing there, and maybe answer the occasional writing question, and maybe even critique people's own writing if they sign up to support me at a certain level.

But this isn't a definite decision yet. I'm still thinking about it.  I'd need to aim for at least $300US a month for it to really make a difference.

$300 dollars - or about a dollar a month from just three hundred of you, over the space of a year, year and a half - would make writing that third book feasible. Without that, I'm not sure it could be finished within that time, if ever.

Should I run a Patreon, at the very least I could share deleted scenes from previous books, or notes and synopses from the same, and also my writing notes that show how different books were put together over a period of months or years. I also have some back copies of recent books which, I suppose, I could sign and send out to higher-tier supporters.

There's a lot to think about. But to repeat - without that support, the chances of their being a finished third Extinction book are much, much lower.

Hooray, you might say. Now you can write that space opera! Well, that's true. But it's still only the germ of an idea. And there's a secret to writing you really need to know: the best books are written by authors being true to themselves. True to the best ideas they have, as well as to their audience. I know that you want the best work I can give you - and that's what I'm offering, regardless of the specific sub-genre.

So all this is just to let you know where my head is at right now. I have a lot of plans for writing. And it may be up to you to help me make them come true.

Your comments and thoughts are appreciated. 


New announcement: Ghost Frequencies acquired by Newcon Press.

It's my pleasure to announce that Newcon Press have acquired World English Rights to my novella GHOST FREQUENCIES, and will publish it in hardback, paperback and ebook.

Ian Whates of Newcon Press said: “I’m delighted at this opportunity to work with Gary Gibson, an author whose brand of thrilling science fiction I’ve long admired. GHOST FREQUENCIES is a gripping tale of science applied to the supernatural, and the terrifying possibilities that lurk in the overlap. The story will form part of a ‘Strange Tales’ quartet of novellas currently taking shape and it represents a fabulous addition to the NewCon Novella series.”

It's a story literally twenty years in the making, for reasons I'll go into closer to the time of actual publication. Some ideas just take time to figure out how to do them right. The date of publication isn't set, but it'll be either next year or possibly 2019.

In the meantime, I'm working on some other projects, including one in particular which I'll talk about soon here.

My agent, John Jarrold, has put up a press release


Four Things I liked This Week

A few things I've read, heard, seen and otherwise enjoyed or found useful over the last while:

Pounding out a few hundred thousand words per year tends to be brutal on keyboards. I was forced to put aside my Apple bluetooth keyboard when the down-arrow button popped out and refused to be put back.

At first, I was taken aback to realise just how often I use a key I thought I'd hardly miss, and started researching the cost of new keyboards. Then I discovered Karabiner, which makes it ridiculously easy to remap keys. Now the right-hand option button functions as the 'down' key on my Apple keyboard, and I saved myself a lot of money.

I always had a soft spot for Egan's fiction ever since I first encountered it in the pages of Interzone back in the Nineties and late Eighties. This is one of his more 'accessible' pieces, in the form of a short novella published by Tor.com about a movie executive reborn by choice in a new body in the near-to-intermediate future. I can easily see it as a lo-fi independent science fiction film, which would be fitting given the subject matter.

A very twisty Hitchcockian thriller from Spain in which the CEO of a new company wakes up in a hotel next to the body of his mistress. Of course, nobody is who they appear to be, and nothing is what it seems. This one kept me guessing all the way to the end.

A nice little photo filter app with a variety of pre-set filters that give your pictures a very nice, moody edge. I liked this enough I ended up playing with it for quite a while, and it could be genuinely useful for designing (say) ebook covers, especially when compared with other apps or software such as Pixelmator. 


Poll Results

A couple of weeks back I posted a poll in which I asked people to pick which future writing project of mine sounded promising based on a one- or two-line description so I could try and gauge what kind of book people might like to see from me. I think anyone could have guessed what the results might be, but I still hoped for a surprise.

I've been meaning to post about the results for a while now. I would have done so sooner, but I got caught up in writing a new manuscript - which I talk about further down the page. That’s just about finished, so now I think I can talk at last about the poll.

I figured most of you would vote in favour of the description that most resembled the kind of books I’m known for, so of course it’s no big surprise that it came out well ahead of the others. Although I was perhaps a little surprised at how far ahead.

And there was another unexpected result related to the two other choices I gave you.
Here's a screen grab to show you what those results actually look like.


As you can see, the vast majority of you are overwhelmingly in favour of Ghosts of the Deep, which I described as far-future hard sf. The other two contenders, Proxy and Black Dog are, by comparison, a long way behind. But the poll demonstrates they do have their supporters, however lightly sketched  the description of each is.

I was certainly surprised that Black Dog, which I described as Seventies-set Lovecraft, scored higher than Proxy, given Proxy is, ostensibly, cyberpunk. Of course, I didn’t actually use the word cyberpunk in the survey, and maybe that was a mistake.

Maybe it's time to talk a little more about these ideas, and how far they've been developed.

Of the three, Proxy is by far the most thoroughly developed. It currently exists as a detailed six-thousand word outline, and it got an enthusiastic response from my editor when I was still with Tor UK. Unlike the majority of my previous books, Proxy is set only thirty years in the future, and revolves around post-human mind-swapping in the criminal underworld of near-future New York.

Black Dog, by complete contrast, is intended to be full-on horror fantasy, depicting the rise to prominence of a thug-like band manager in the late sixties and early seventies with a great deal of black magic and occult goings-on. Think Valley of the Dolls by way of The Song Remains the Same  and Phantom of the Paradise.

So, yeah. A long way from Stealing Light. But of course, the idea of doing something so utterly unlike anything I’d ever done before is what makes it so enormously appealing. And, like many of you, I’m sure, I’ve read a shedload of Lovecraft, as well as fiction that makes use of the whole Cthulhu Mythos.  So it's natural I might want to write something like that.

Both Black Dog and Ghosts of the Deep, however, are only lightly sketched-in by comparison to Proxy. Even so, this poll is a really useful reminder both of where my strengths lie, and therefore of what I should focus on.

But neither do I want to get stuck in a rut of always writing books that use broadly the same settings and themes. A way out of that is to write more, and more varied stuff. And, indeed, the writing project that took up much of my time this month was a deliberate attempt to see if I could write a first draft of a novel in less than a month.

As it turns out, I can. Therefore if I can write more, and faster, then I can hopefully produce a greater variety of books - not just the ones people want and expect from me, but ones that let me flex my creative muscles. It’s equally possible that some of the ideas I've talked about here could be novellas rather than novels since, after all, they take much less time to write.

The other big takeaway from the poll for me is that running an occasional poll is not only fun, but genuinely insightful. Sure, sometimes the results aren’t always that surprising. But at the very least it's a direct link from your brain(s) to mine, and that's pretty useful. 


Ulysses shifts to subscription model: some thoughts.

In short, not a fan.

For those of you who don't know, Ulysses is writing software, similar to Scrivener but not as detailed and available only on Mac. And Scrivener, in case you don't know what that is either, is also writing software, and very, very popular: I've used it for writing every single book I've produced since 2007. Recently Ulysses announced a shift to a monthly paid subscription model and saw their servers crash due to a flood of visits from people who were, so I gather from social media, less than thrilled by the news.

I've seen some solid arguments about why some firms shift their software over to a subscription model: it's because every time they release a new version of their software, there's an initial rush to buy, followed by a long spell of no purchases until the next major update. With little or no money trickling in, sometimes for years, there's little incentive to work much on updates beyond hurried compatibility patches for OS upgrades. A subscription model, by contrast, keeps money flowing in regularly and allows for more frequent and meaningful software development.

And that's a valid business model - for a software company. For fiction writers and those who might be described as casual users, it's perhaps a different matter.

I think this move shifts Ulysses solidly away from casual to business software. I use both Ulysses and Scrivener, but for different things. I write short stories and book reports in Ulysses, since Ulysses is very good at handling short form work, but not long-form. I write novellas and novels in Scrivener, because there's no contest. It was also a nice way of compartmentalising my work: professional critiquing goes here, my own stuff goes there.

Scrivener is due an update very soon to version 3. I can tell you right now it rocks, because I've been beta testing it for months (I can't talk about it in any more detail than that, I'm afraid). It does make me wonder if Soulmen, the company behind Ulysses, saw what Scrivener are about to unleash and felt their collective hearts sink.

The question is, is it worth it to me to subscribe to Ulysses? Not really, no. Why? Because there's an alternative - Scrivener - that doesn't require a subscription. I could write the cost off as a business expense, but why pay yet more money? If I were using Ulysses for work, every single day, as opposed to spurts of activity as and when I'm asked to critique a manuscript, then a subscription might make sense.

And as a writer, my business expenses are always to the fore of my mind. Money is always to the forefront of my mind, as it is with every one of us whether rich or poor - and to be fair, it's poor, for most of us writers.

That's why this feels like a deliberate move to a specifically business, rather than casual model. If they've got a business model that can support them, great.

In the meantime, however, I'm going to keep using the non-subscription versions of the software, at least for as long as it'll work, which hopefully might be a couple of years. Ulysses has been very useful to me, but when push comes to shove, I know where I'd choose to land - with Scrivener. 


Four Things I Liked This Week

If you're wondering about the results of that poll I posted a few days back, they're on their way. In one respect, the results did not surprise me. In another respect, it surprised me a great deal. I'll elucidate further in an upcoming post.

I've been meaning to share a few things I've read, seen, listened to or made use of, hopefully on a semi-regular basis. Obviously I want you to buy my books, but I don't live in a vacuum: there's other good stuff, and since most of the things I encounter are through personal recommendation, it makes sense to pay that forward. So until I post the results of that last poll, here are some things I liked this week, and that I think you might too:

Comics: Locke and Key, Vol 1-4.
I actually started reading this a while back, but picked up the most recent volumes of this comic book series by Joe Hill during a sale on Comixology.  If you were to ask me for a recommendation, this comic series would likely be top of the list.

The Keyhouse, a sprawling mansion, has been part of the Locke family for centuries. After the brutal murder of their father, the Locke children return to live in the Keyhouse with their increasingly alcoholic mother. They soon discover certain keys open doors, and that passing through those doors produce unexpected results. They can make you bigger, or change your sex, or allow your spirt to wander free temporarily. But there's something hiding in the bottom of the well, and it wants out...

Film: Baby Driver, directed by Edgar Wright
Baby, a former teenage car thief, pays off a debt to a criminal kingpin by working as a getaway driver for bank robbers. His tinnitus means he constantly blasts music into his ears to drown out the noise. Sixty seconds into the movie, with the sound of Bellbottoms by the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion blasting out of the speakers, I was ready to stand up and cheer. A triumph of not only vivid and powerful storytelling, but also style. A future and perhaps even current cult classic by the director of Spaced and Shaun of the Dead.

Books: George Orwell, Homage to Catalonia
This is the book I wish a lot of the people writing endless military sf novels set in some kind of space Vietnam would read. Orwell, like many,  went to the aid of the Spanish communists and anarchists fighting Franco's fascists during the Spanish Civil War in the 1930s. Once there, he vacillates between boredom, spending long weeks half-drowned in mud at the bottom of a trench to no apparent purpose, and time in Barcelona, where he sees the people he came to help disintegrate into bickering and mutual betrayal, torn apart by larger forces abroad that have their own ideas of how the war should come out. Essential reading for anyone wanting to set a story in war times.

Documentaries: The Accidental Anarchist. 
This may still be on BBC IPlayer. Carne Ross is a former diplomat to countries such as Afghanistan and Iraq. He rapidly became disillusioned, and came to the conclusion he was doing more harm than good by aiding the Western war effort in the Middle East. Then he journeyed to Rojava, which is to modern idealists as Barcelona was to Orwell and his contemporaries: a place where a new kind of democracy could be brought into existence. There, he finds anarchism in action and working, and finds the same thing in scattered communities in modern Spain. One of the most enlightening and remarkable pieces of documentary film-making I've seen in a while. 


Time for another Poll!

Time for another poll! Because there’s always time for another poll.

This time, it’s not about whether I should write a novella versus a novel, or a sequel versus something completely new. Instead, it’s about the kind of story I might write next, that’s not a sequel and not a novella.

If I need a justification for this latest poll, it’s simply this: I want to get a sense of what the people who read my books want from me.

Now, to be fair, I think I already know the answer to that. But even so, I think the results would be interesting.

Before we get to the actual poll itself, here is the question I’ll be asking, and the possible answers. The poll itself will be at the end of the blog.

Question: Excluding the possibility of a sequel to Extinction Game and Survival Game, what kind of story would you, as a reader of my books, like to see me write?

1 - GHOSTS OF THE DEEP: Interstellar, far-future hard SF in the mode of Neal Stephenson, Greg Bear and Alistair Reynolds.
2 - PROXY: Near-future, cyberpunk-ish sf dealing with the ramifications of a groundbreaking new communications technology.
3 - BLACK DOG: 1970s-set Lovecraftian horror.

For the sake of context, I have, apart from a further Extinction book, the outlines for a number of other novels. One of these, Echogenesis, has already been written, and is currently being touted around publishers. Echogenesis is undeniably in line with my previous output.

But there are other books still waiting to be written, and the ones listed above are the ones that currently have most of my interest. Ghosts of the Deep is undoubtedly closest to the kinds of book I’ve written in the past, set centuries hence. Proxy is much more contemporary and a lot more cyberpunk in feel. Black Dog is wildly different from anything else I’ve had published - although now is probably as good a time as any to mention that my first ever published short story appeared in a horror magazine in the very early 90s.

Anyway, I’m curious to see what you pick. So click away and I’ll tally the results in a couple of weeks.

(Edit: it appears the poll form isn't appearing in some cases, possibly on people's phones (I see it doesn't show up on my ZenFone), so if you still want to cast a vote while you're on the move, feel free to pick a number and put it in a comment and I'll tally it with the rest.)


The Poll Results

So a week or two ago I posted a poll by way of a casual (very casual) means of canvassing the readers of this blog regarding what I should write next. The three possible actions I asked people to vote on - and the results - are as follows:

1 - Write a novella following on from Survival Game. I really want to know what happens next. (10 respondents)
2 - Screw that. Write something completely new. Don't hold back all those original ideas. (11 respondents)
3 - I hate novellas. You should definitely spend the next year slaving over a brand new book. (3 respondents)

That's a couple dozen replies, which is about as much as you can hope for with these things. Ten people think I should write a novella sequel to Survival Game, eleven think I should do something completely new, and three think I should get the hell on with writing another actual book.

Now, in fairness, it's not the best designed poll. Right after I posted it, I started having flashbacks to college when I learned how to build survey questions that aren't leading or trigger unconscious biases. However, the questions wouldn't quite fit in the box that the SurveyMonkey website describes, so question 3 often disappeared from view. So it's quite possible people didn't see that they needed to scroll the box to see the third question.

Secondly, I neglected to specify in Q2 that when I referred to writing something completely new, it should be a completely new novella. It was implied, but that's not the same thing as stated. So the low figures for option three could be construed as being the result of bad poll design.

Either way, I think we can call it an even split: roughly half of you think I should get on with writing the third Extinction Game story, and roughly half of you again think I should write something new. That means I could go either way.

I did go back into my files and dig out the outline for the third Extinction Game book and work on it again. It was a little rough, since these things are usually put together in a relative hurry for the sake of the publisher. The rule of thumb is these are only rough guidelines for how a book might look once it's done, particularly since a lot of writers tend not to stick exactly or at all to any outlines they might generate. They exist purely to give the publisher a rough idea of what they might get.

Or at least, that's the theory. I suspect some editors don't realise just how much of the creative work happens during the writing of the actual book. Anyway, the outline I had was a little threadbare so I took most of a week to fill out the bones and get something that held together better.

So all I really need to do is write it, although I suspect, given the amount of detail, it would be rather more than a novella. There's enough there for a full novel, though I'd still like to keep the length down. I'm also far from sure how this works if a publisher has already published the first couple books.

So there's that. What about original stuff? Well, there's some ideas waiting to be written, but right now my brain has more or less left me a note saying it's going away on holiday for a couple of weeks and it's not doing any fiction writing until it's good and ready.

Or maybe it's just its way of telling me to write another Extinction Game story. Now the question is: if I wrote it, would enough people buy it to justify the effort?

Perhaps it's time for another poll. 



Like I said, I was going to talk about novellas.

Novellas are strange, sometimes unloved beasts. Too long for short story markets, too short to sell as novels, they’re never quite the right size. And yet a lot of writers love them because it’s possible to express an idea in a story only a quarter or a third the length of a full novel, so in terms of sheer typing, at least, they’re a lot less work. Readers love them because, unlike many novels, they’re short and sharp and no longer than they need to be. But they’re also a good deal harder to sell.

Back after I delivered my last book for Tor, I realised I had the opportunity to work on stories I’d been wanting to write for years. First, however, I needed something for my agent to market, so I spent ten months working on Echogenesis. Publishing is a slow business, with negotiations dragging out interminably for months or sometimes longer, so I knew I probably had a wait ahead of me.

I wrote some short stories, but once those were done I had other ideas that felt like they deserved more than a short story. But neither did I want to spend up to a year writing each one.

Writing those ideas as novellas was clearly the answer. I think I originally had the vague notion of publishing them myself, but ultimately that's going to be a matter of last resort. If you can market something to a publisher, you should. So far I’ve written two novellas, but now I need to think about what to do next: write another full-length novel, or work on more novellas?

There’s an outline for a third Extinction Game book that Tor rejected. It doesn’t need to be the full length of a novel: I could probably fit it into a long novella if I wanted to.

Or I could write something different and entirely original. But if you happened to have a preference, what would it be?

(By the way, the window on that survey there is a little funny. You might have to scroll it up so you see all three options).


File under 'G' in the Library of Babel

Between 2004 and 2015 I wrote ten books for Tor, but they weren't the only books I could have written. Like most people, I sometimes submitted outlines and ideas that didn't get accepted. Why they weren't accepted proved instrumental in my growing understanding in the early years of my career of how publishing actually worked.

At the time Angel Stations got picked up, I was already halfway through writing my second novel, Against Gravity. Indeed, I'd started it before I even had a flicker of interest from Tor, as I recorded in this very blog way back when.

Angel Stations was unabashed space opera hard sf. It was pretty much everything that had been rolling around in my head for a decade. It was also, believe it or not, something of a sequel. My first novel, written about 1997, was set in the same universe, but never got published. It did get me an agent, and it did secure the interest of Tor, who had said while they weren't interested in acquiring it they were interested in seeing what else I'd come up with. Angel Stations was what I had come up with.

When I first signed a contract with Tor, I found it slightly weird that they didn't even ask to know what my second as yet unfinished novel was even about. In retrospect, I suspect they'd just gone ahead and assumed it was a sequel to the first. It wasn't. They didn't know that, because they never asked. Where Angel Stations was full-on space opera, Against Gravity was a bit more in the near-future cyberpunk mode. It was about cyborg technologies, nanotechnology, a near-future war and some pretty whacky theories about the end of the universe I'd come across a few years before. But they were still both unabashedly science fiction, and so far as I knew that was all that had mattered
Actually, it's not quite true that Tor never expressed an interest in the subject matter of my future books. I had a brief chat with my new editor at an Eastercon not long after signing that first contract. He suggested, rather jocularly, that everything would be fine as long as I wasn't going to go off and write any books about magic cats.

That really wasn't very likely, I replied. But I was also a little annoyed because I felt at the time like I was being talked down to. I went home and tried really, really hard to think of some way to write a book about magic cats that was, nonetheless, unabashed near- or far-future science fiction. I thought of Schrodinger's Cat, which is as near as hard sf gets to a magic cat, but unfortunately no good ideas involving quantum mechanics would come to mind. Which is a shame, because I was still pissed off. I'd have given anything to hand the editor in question a hard sf manuscript called The Magic Cat.

Angel Stations did as well as any debut novel does, which is...okay. Moderate sales, but that's how it works. People often don't pick up on you until you're three, five, eight books deep into a career. Then if they like what they read, there are lots of others they can go and buy. Against Gravity came out and also did okay, but only okay, possibly not helped by my publisher's deliberate decision to not have a single copy available anywhere on the grounds of the World Science Fiction Convention that took place in my home town almost to the day it was released. Instead, they had two hundred copies available in a Borders Books three miles from the Convention. I found it strange at the time, and appalling now. When six thousand hardcore science fiction fans descend on a town, you don't make sure the last thing they can find is your new author.

It did get a review in Locus. Well, I say a review: the reviewer actually spent an entire page talking about my blog instead, which he liked. Thanks a bunch, asshole. Not as bad as a decade before when an Interzone critic decided he not only didn't want to read a 'zine I'd put together, he didn't want to print the address from which it could be ordered (back in the pre-Internet era). That asshole spent the rest of his column reviewing his own work. But, still. Pretty bad.

My first contract was for two books, so for the third I needed to score a new contract. I put together an outline for a book called Things Unseen which I was very enthusiastic about. It was a conspiracy story set in the 50s, 60s and 80s involving remote sensing, the occult origins of modern art and n-dimensional parallel realities. It was, or I wanted it to be, a total mindfuck.

My agent loved it. Tor rejected it without comment.

Great. I put that to one side and tried to think of something else. I came up with a planetary adventure called Slow Burn. I wrote ten thousand words and an outline and submitted it. While I was waiting, it got up to thirty thousand words.

Tor knocked it back, this time with a comment saying: better, but could you make it more "intergalactic"?


I wrote to my then-agent Dorothy. What do they want? I had tried asking the publisher, but didn't get a reply.

Somewhere in Dorothy's own reply, she mentioned another client of hers who wrote mystery stories set around the world of horse breeding.

Hang on, I emailed back. Are you saying all her books are written only in the context of horse breeding? Yes, she replied. That's what her publishers want her to write.

Only then did it click. Tor wanted something that wasn't Angel Stations, but was. They wanted space ships and interstellar intrigue and action.
What I hadn't realised until then - and remember, by the way, we're still barely into the Google era at this point, still pre-Facebook, so things that can be easily googled now couldn't be so easily found out as they can now - is that publishers want more of the same, and more of the same.

Well, duh, you might say now. But again, at the time, there was no one around to tell me this. What example I did have were authors whom I liked and who wrote in multiple genres - horror, science fiction, mainstream - apparently with impunity. What I didn't realise was that these different books were often for different publishers under all kinds of crazy circumstances, and that the choice to write in different genres or styles was dependent on the relative success of the author. To be precise, the more successful you are, the more you can get away with.

And me, being far less powerful, could therefore get away with far less.

I'll be honest with you, at the time I first started putting together Stealing Light, I felt a little cynical towards it. It wasn't what I'd hoped to be working on. Searching through my files for a notion or an idea, I stumbled across a single scrap from an unfinished story and it became an early scene in that book. I wrote ten thousand words and a rough outline, submitted it to Tor - and they liked it, as I'd darkly suspected they would. I signed a second, one-book contract.

Somewhere in the writing of that book, something changed, and I started to get into it. I found a reason to be writing that story. It's the book where I figured out how to do what I did. Angel Stations and Against Gravity had each been a struggle to write, because I was still learning. Stealing Light was the fruition of what I learned, aided, it must be said, by my discovery of Scrivener.

After a quarter of the way into the manuscript I stopped long enough to completely redraft the outline I'd submitted to Tor. It expanded from a six thousand to a thirty thousand word outline. The book itself also grew, and grew, until it was just shy of 140,000 words.

I felt happy with it. The project I hadn't wanted to do became something I was entirely happy to do. It also went on to be the best-selling by far of all my books. It was the first to come out in hardback. It got compared to Peter Hamilton and Neal Asher, two very popular Tor authors, which I found amusing because at that point I had not yet read a single word by either author. I thought I was writing in the vein of Greg Bear, Iain Banks and Dan Simmons, who were undoubtedly influences, but it appeared not.

Some scenes from Slow Burn made it into Stealing Light, with some of the names changed. Just one or two.

So far, my entries in the Library of Babel equalled half a dozen. Apart from Things Unseen, Slow Burn and my unpublished first novel were a couple of vague outlines for other books set in the Angels universe (put together long before the first contract) and an attempt at writing a kind of fantasy western with Chinese magic called Western Gothic.

From there, I was on a roll. Pretty much nothing got bounced back until fairly recently, when a proposal for a third book in the Extinction Game series got rejected. I don't rule out writing it in some form, most likely another novella, but that remains to be seen.

Next time, I'll talk novellas.