Light Space

Or 'Licht Raum' as those hilarious Germans like to call the upcoming Heyne edition of 'Empire of Light'. Funnily enough, when I typed that into Google Translate as a single word, it translated it as 'clearance', which obviously wasn't quite right. Putting a space between 'licht' and 'raum' did the trick. The artwork's not quite as spectacular as what I got for the Pan Macmillan edition of Empire of Light, perhaps, but as the ad says, it does exactly what it says on the tin.

Lost, Found

Well, that was kind of weird. Ever since I moved to the area I currently live in, here in Glasgow, I've had issues with the post. Boxes of books sent to me would mysteriously vanish en route and, indeed, pretty much anything which might be perceived to be of value disappeared into the black maw of my local delivery office to never be seen again. I started thinking seriously about getting a PO Box, but at a cost of maybe sixty or seventy pounds a year for what came to maybe half a dozen large deliveries per year, it was too expensive.

In the end I wound up having large items of this nature delivered to a friend's address across the city. My feelings about Royal Mail weren't improved by past encounters with my postman. I hate to colour people with my own personal prejudices and perceptions...but the guy was a total ned. Or, if you're not from Scotland, let's just say that if you encountered him on the street, you'd give him a wide body-swerve.

I'd started to hope this was all over when packages actually started to turn up until I ordered a Kindle last week to replace my Sony Reader. It was due to be delivered yesterday, until I checked the Royal Mail website...which informed me the Kindle had been delivered to me (the precise wording is 'collected by the addressee').

Nope. No sign of it. That left me with only one conclusion: it had been nicked en route, something with which I am depressingly familiar. Calls to both Royal Mail and Amazon confirmed this must be the case.

I got a refund, since I knew a store in town sold them and I was going into town anyway; I'd have bought one there before, but they were sold out. I called the store...and they were still sold out.

By now I just wanted the damn thing already without any more hassle. So having obtained a refund for the first delivery, I went back to Amazon and ordered a replacement with next day, signed for, trackable and hopefully theft-proof delivery.

Today I got a card through the door saying the one I'd originally ordered was waiting at my local Delivery Office. The one, you'll recall, that had 'already' been delivered to me.

So I went down and collected it, even though I'm due to have its replacement delivered this same afternoon. I asked the woman behind the counter what the hell was going on. I said I'd checked the Royal Mail website, and that it had supposedly already been 'collected by the addressee'. The addressee being me, yes?

Absolutely, she said. She had no idea why the website would have said it had already been picked up if it hadn't.  I didn't have that wrong.

Great. So I trudged back through the snow and slush with the Kindle that had already been delivered to me - supposedly - knowing another one is arriving this afternoon. Two conclusions: 1 - it was just a screw-up. Someone hit the wrong button somewhere, or did something that flagged the wrong message up on some database. 2 - someone tried to nick it, and changed their mind, maybe because my phone calls flagged up some automatic query, or because they realized the thing might not be usable since, as far as I know, each Kindle has a unique identifier, and that might not have worked if I'd told Amazon it had been stolen. It's all conjecture and guesswork on my part, but it doesn't do anything to improve my opinion of the mail service in this country. Not at all. Amazon are emailing me a posting label to return the one I don't need, but that doesn't help me after I wasted an afternoon on the phone when I could have been working.



I blogged earlier this year about taking part in a panel at a Sci-Fi London event back in the Spring, only a few weeks after I had arrived back in the UK. I discovered via Twitter that the audio of that panel - featuring the editor of SFX and Paul Graham Raven, amongst others - is now online here. I should say before you listen to it that I hate the sound of my own voice, and hearing it does make me think I need to try and speak a little more clearly - there was a reason I was speaking as slowly and carefully as I was; when I really get into a point,  I can sometimes get carried away - but it was an interesting and fun conversation, and it was nice to put a face to PGR after occasional online communications. The subject was the growth of ebooks and the threat of piracy, etc etc.

The podcast of the panel is here.

Funny story - while I was down at Sci Fi London I ran into someone I used to work with, back in my days at Borders Books, by the name of Gary Erskine. Gary had already made a name for himself in the world of comics, though at that time he wasn't quite so advanced in his career that he didn't need to rely on some kind of a day job. I get the impression that isn't the case anymore. Still, back in those days, I hadn't sold Angel Stations, and in fact, I hadn't even started writing it. I had sold a few short stories at the time, but didn't really talk very much about my writing.

So anyway, I ran into Gary at the event, just before he was due to take part on a panel himself, and he looked surprised to see me and naturally assumed I was down to see some of the panels, or something like that. When he realised a few seconds later that I was a pro writer - with several novels out since the last time he'd set eyes on me, neatly piled up on tables a few feet away - he was properly flabbergasted. The look on his face, I swear, was priceless.


There Are Rat Bastards Everywhere

Go and read this post on Nick Mamatas' blog pertaining to an acquaintance of his, who discovered a for-profit US print magazine had - without permission - lifted an online article she'd written and published it. On Nick's advice she wrote to the magazine and asked for payment - and the editor wrote back, suggesting the author should be paying her.

Makes you weep. There are creeps everywhere.


Did someone just try and buy out the UK government?

Which is more or less the title of this latest entry in Charlie Stross's blog. Let me tell you, it's some day when I find a speech by an elderly member of the House of Lords quite gripping. Even if he does turn ut to be lacking a few shingles from the roof. Last I heard it's going viral (according to Charlie's last posting on Facebook) with upwards of a couple hundred thousand hits on Charlie's blog in just a few hours.

It's jaw-dropping stuff either way. Here's a clip (via Charlie, via someone on LJ, via Hansard, the official minutes of the House of Lords), taken from Lord James of Blackheath's speech:

"For the past 20 weeks I have been engaged in a very strange dialogue with the two noble Lords, in the course of which I have been trying to bring to their attention the willing availability of a strange organisation which wishes to make a great deal of money available to assist the recovery of the economy in this country. For want of a better name, I shall call it foundation X. That is not its real name, but it will do for the moment. Foundation X was introduced to me 20 weeks ago last week by an eminent City firm, which is FSA controlled. Its chairman came to me and said, "We have this extraordinary request to assist in a major financial reconstruction. It is megabucks, but we need your help to assist us in understanding whether this business is legitimate". I had the biggest put-down of my life from my noble friend Lord Strathclyde when I told him this story. He said, "Why you? You're not important enough to have the answer to a question like that". He is quite right, I am not important enough, but the answer to the next question was, "You haven't got the experience for it". Yes I do. I have had one of the biggest experiences in the laundering of terrorist money and funny money that anyone has had in the City. I have handled billions of pounds of terrorist money."

Go read the rest. 


One Meeleyun Words

That's meant to be Doctor Evil, by the way...no, what I mean is I just realised that by the time I finish the book I've just started - The Thousand Emperors - I'll have passed the one million word mark; meaning I'll have written - at my best guesstimate - at least one million words of fiction since I started writing (including both published and unpublished words, to be precise). The bulk of that is in my published novels, mind you, and assumes I'd written maybe fifty or sixty thousand words of (mostly unpublished) prose before I first tried my hand at writing a novel. That feels like it might be something worth celebrating.

Teaching Sf

I've been a bit hesitant over talking about this, but I've been playing fairly seriously with the idea of teaching science fiction writing. The idea got started in my head when I started doing paid critiques of people's unpublished novels and realised the very great majority of them were making the most fundamental errors in their writing over and over and over again. A lot of what I learned about writing came from observation (ie reading lots of sf and paying attention), study (often from those thousands of books on writing you can get) and informed criticism (either internal or through things like the local sf writer's critique workshop). The idea got a boost when I realised critiquing other people's novels in this way - which also includes telling the author what I think would make their novel better/more salable - was making my own writing better; thinking more about what made other people's fiction work made me think more about what made my own fiction work (or not work, depending on where you stand). The critiquing's worked out pretty well, with some writers returning to ask me to help them with other things they've written.

That naturally evolved into something along the lines of 'I wonder if I could teach writing?' That's a harder question to answer because I haven't done it. But I often hear stories about people taking part in some writing class which turned out to be taught by someone with little more experience than the people they're teaching.

Since I got back to the UK in March, I made some enquiries. I contacted a couple of local colleges - tentatively - asking them if they thought this was something they might be interested in. I got knocked back, but politely. Then I recently found out a local university is in fact running evening classes on writing sf, fantasy and horror - and taught by someone who, so far as I can tell, hasn't ever written a word of sf.

Now, to be fair, judging by this person's website, they're not a bad writer. They have talent. It could be this person is a phenomenal teacher, with a wide interest in the fields of sf, fantasy and horror to inform them - although that would be an assumption on my part, since there's zero evidence to support that assumption anywhere on their personal website.

So it would be a mistake to assume too much; nonetheless, a brief discussion with another pro sf writer of my acquaintance who also works in a University - and also teaches sf writing - went some way towards confirming my suspicion that a great number of those teaching creative writing are often little qualified to do so (and in case you protest this, please remember this is what I have been told by different sources, some of whom have been very unhappy at spending their money on classes that proved of so little worth to them they wished they'd spent the money on how-to books written by people they'd heard of. If you know or think otherwise, do let me know in the comments). My own experience of paid writing classes way back in the day was, I'm afraid, overwhelmingly negative.

So finding out someone who doesn't write sf is running a local paid class on writing sf spurred me to think really, really hard about why I wasn't doing the same damn thing. Well, there's various thoughts on that. One is: I couldn't possibly do any worse than some of the people I've heard about. Another is: after five novels published and another three due in the next couple of years, I think I just might be qualified, in experience if nothing else. I wouldn't be the first pro sf writer to try their hand at teaching. I might even have something useful to say about fantasy and horror as well. A lot of it by necessity wouldn't just be about sf - it would be about writing in general, and how to get better at it.

If I did do this, it would likely not be something spread over several weeks. It might instead by a very intensive two-day thing spread over a weekend. It's hard for people to commit to something week-in, week-out, if you've got any kind of a life or commitments. So here's my question to you: if you're reading this blog, there's a decent chance you've thought about writing yourself. Have you ever thought about attending a paid writing workshop, say over a weekend? Does it make any difference to you if the person teaching it is a pro, with a history of publication and novels?

Also, if you've had any positive or negative experiences attending paid writing classes, I'd like to hear about them.

What I did this weekend

I don't normally go much for diary-style entries, but it's been a busy weekend with some fun stuff happening, and it feels worth recording. We (me + Emma) went to a local comedy club The Stand with a couple of friends, proving once more that stand-up works a lot better live than on the TV. The Stand was running for years before I first went to it sometime in the middle of the decade. Note to self: go to more live comedy shows.

Sunday night we spent watching Hal Duncan perform with a local psych-rock band called The Cosmic Dead, amongst other acts. Let me tell you, I really like the kind of stuff the Cosmic Dead do. You could probably sum them up in one word - Hawkwind - but that doesn't really do them justice.

I find it eternally amusing that after having lived through the Eighties, an almost entirely execrable decade in terms of music, that the children of the same people who were buying Wham! or Smiths albums 25 years ago are now forming bands with names like The Cosmic Dead.

Mind you, when Hal started shouting over the music ('reading poetry' I think is the technical term) I couldn't hear a damn thing. Also, everyone on the stage was completely invisible in clouds of dry ice. Lots and lots and lots of dry ice. On the other hand, it all added to the atmosphere, as did the fact the band themselves were dressed in black hooded capes. Given that it was Halloween this does make perfect sense, as does the fact the audience included Mexican wrestlers and a man painted blue.
Jim Steel, in standard Interzone uniform
Monday and I checked out Word Dogs, which is a spoken word performance group including some members of the Glasgow SF Writer's Circle, in a city-centre cafe called Cafe Hula. Another interesting night, including seeing Jim Steel, Interzone's reviews editor, dressed in a three feet tall stovepipe hat. And it wasn't even Halloween. Unfortunately, when I arrived...I was the audience. Then someone else turned up and I pointed out the audience had just doubled (in fairness, a few other people eventually trickled in).

And I somehow even managed to get some work done on the book in the middle of all this.