New Directions in Blogging

(Hands up if you're old and nerdy enough to get the reference of that blog post title)

I haven't blogged for a while, which is usually the part where a writer says 'and I probably won't be again', but that wouldn't be true: I am indeed still blogging, but the rapidly shifting nature of publishing in the face of radical technological change means the changes they are a'coming.

These days, you will find my blogging primarily in two places: in my Patreon and in my newsletter.

I post regularly to my Patreon, which of course is for people who are willing to contribute financially towards my writing. In return, I try and give them things. Advance digital copies of forthcoming books to check out, deleted scenes, and even all the chapters from whatever I'm working on, posted at regular intervals.

At the moment, I'm posting up chapters from a draft of DOOMSDAY GAME, the sequel to EXTINCTION GAME and SURVIVAL GAME. It doesn't cost much to get access: about a dollar per month, if I recall. And in return, you're increasing the amount of time I can afford to spend on writing rather than other stuff to keep a roof over my head.

I haven't really made use of my newsletter yet, even though I have several hundred people signed up to my mailing list. So I'm shifting a large part of my blogging activities there. Every month or two months, I'll try and put together an email blast of news and other stuff, and also, for the sake of extra value, interviews when and as I can get them with other writers.

I just sent out a newsletter earlier today. If you don't want to miss the next one, which is intended to feature a bright new star on the UK publishing scene, you should sign up. And of course, you get to download an ebook copy of my novelette Scienceville.

In terms of what I'm working on other than Doomsday Game, all I'll say for now is that I've got various projects up in the air while I wait to see what way they fall. Sign up to the mailing list for more details. 



This week, I’m celebrating the release of my new book (novella if you want to be technical about it) GHOST FREQUENCIES, published in paperback, ebook and hardback by Newcon Press.

Just so you can share in the joy a little bit more, I’m dropping the price of my recently-published short fiction collection SCIENCEVILLE AND OTHER LOST WORLDS to just 99p/$0.99 for the next week. So if you’ve been holding out, now is the time to grab it. But you’d better hurry! It’s almost certainly going up in price once the sale is over. 

Now I get to tell you a little more about Ghost Frequencies and where the specific inspiration came from. 

Ghost Frequencies is:
A ghost story.
A murder mystery.
Diamond-hard science fiction that explores the edges of known science. 

A few years back, I was commissioned to write a chapter of a book about different genres of science fiction. In the article, which focused on hard sf, I made the argument that hard science fiction, rather than focusing only on what is actually possible within the current limits of human knowledge, is more often the place where fiction touches the genuinely unknown and, within the limitations of the human senses, possibly unknowable

The difference, I further argued, between hard science fiction and other forms of literature such as horror and fantasy, is that it most often tries either to explain what it encounters, or uses the failure to find such an explanation as a literary gambit to trigger feelings of awe in the reader at the seeming vastness of the universe.

Examples abound: in Greg Bear’s Blood Music, an experiment in microbial genetics leads to the creation of a new form of cellular life that quickly swamps the entire planet - but in doing so, apparently surpasses the intellectual limitations of humanity, finally and profoundly altering the universe itself on a fundamental level. 

The best example is still, probably, Arthur C. Clarke’s 2001, closely followed by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky’s Roadside Picnic. In both, human explorers are confronted by unknown and possibly unknowable artefacts that imply strong limits to the human mind’s ability to comprehend the wider universe. 

For my own personal tastes, the best science fiction is that which pushes just a little bit beyond what we know to be true - fiction that suggests or implies the existence of an unknowably vast reality hewing to as yet undiscovered laws of nature, just beyond our ability to see it. 

In 2001, impossibly advanced and apparently benevolent aliens use their incomprehensible technology to humanity’s benefit. In Roadside Picnic, the aliens are indifferent to humanity; and in the work of HP Lovecraft, they’re actively working to destroy us. In all cases, humanity is, by comparison, insignificant. 

There’s a particular and very British approach to this kind of science fiction, and probably the best examples were created by Nigel Kneale. In the various Quatermass series and movies, these dark and alien forces are always malevolent, and - most importantly - hint at a history that encompasses large tracts of British folklore. When an unexploded bomb beneath a London underground station turns out to be something far older and far more alien, Quatermass soon learns that the whole area surrounding the station has long been haunted by “spirits” - manifestations of alien forces locked within a million-year old spacecraft. 

Other British TV shows, such as The Changes and Nigel Kneale’s non-Quatermass teleplay The Stone Tape, further explored the hinterland between scientific knowledge, horror and folklore, applying a technological sheen to an essentially MR Jamesian mode of fiction. 

Thinking about all of this led me to write Ghost Frequencies, published this week by Newcon Press. I’ve long wanted to write something that explores these same uniquely British hinterlands of scientific enquiry. The whole story is set in a small fictional English town; before now, much of my fiction has been set either in the States or some other world altogether. The protagonist, Susan MacDonald, is trying to build a  communications array utilising particle entanglement in a newly-refurbished mansion called Ashford House that now operates as a fully modernised research establishment. 

The mansion belongs to the sole remaining member of the Ashford family who now makes a living investing in Silicon Valley start-ups. He’s keen that Susan come up with results, but there are problems. People hear whistling coming from empty rooms; the night caretakers keep quitting; and Ashford himself is strangely evasive when Susan discovers a team of paranormal researchers have been given full access to the mansion.

And to top it all, there’s something really weird about the way Susan’s quantum communications array is behaving...

Much of the theory behind the story involves a purely theoretical phenomena known as “quantum retrocausality”. I’d say about half of the effort of writing Ghost Frequencies was just trying to get my head around that. If you want to feel like your head has been twisted off, you could do worse than to watch this video. 

What happens when science meets the apparently inexplicable? What happens is, you get the kind of science fiction I love to read and to write.

Except this time, I’m trying to scare you as well. 


Ghost Frequencies: it's coming for yooooooou

Spotted in the wild:

As you can see, up there on the top right is a glimpse of the paperback of my new short novel Ghost Frequencies picked up at Glasgow's Satellite Convention, most likely at a Newcon Press event.

I also spotted it listed on Amazon the other day with a release date of 19th June: you can see it listed at mybook.to/ghostfrequencies. Depending on where you are, it might say 'currently unavailable'. If it does, the yellow 'purchase' button should have a message telling you it can send you an email when it does become available. So if you'd like to pre-order it when it's available, click that button.

Once both the paperback and ebook are available either for purchase or pre-order, I'll post here to let you know.

But what's it about, Gary? Well, I'm glad you asked. Here's the back cover blurb:
Susan MacDonald is desperate. Unless she makes a breakthrough soon, Ashford, the millionaire businessman financing her project, will shut it down and disband her research team. She knows she’s close – that she’s on the verge of proving the existence of retrocausality, which will enable her to harness quantum mechanics to produce a revolutionary new form of instantaneous communication – but results are proving frustratingly elusive.
The last thing Susan needs is a team of ghost hunters moving into her base of operations, Ashford Hall – a building with a troubled past. Nor does she need the odd sounds – snatches of random conversation and even music – that are hampering her experiments; but does this interference represent the presence of ‘ghosts’ as some claim, deliberate sabotage as suggested by others, or is there an even more sinister explanation? 
The story to some extent focuses on Electronic Voice Phenomena, or essentially, tape recordings of what are supposedly ghosts speaking. Some of my older readers will perhaps remember an old Nigel Kneale teleplay from the early 70s called The Stone Tapes, and it was a definite influence.  


Paperback edition of Scienceville now available

Just so you know, after much fussing over photo-editing and formatting software, Scienceville and Other Lost Worlds is now also available as a paperback! And a nice little package it is too. Slim, but delightful.

You can get it here. mybook.to/SVPB


Cover Art Reveal: Ghost Frequencies

Ian Whates of Newcon Press posted the artwork for Ghost Frequencies, amongst others, in just the last couple of hours, so I guess it's okay to talk about it here. GF is one of a set of four forthcoming novellas/short novels, with the others written by Ricardo Pinto, Adam Roberts and Hal Duncan - making a strong Scottish representation with three of us from north of the border.

The artwork, by Ben Baldwin, is created as a single piece and divided up between the four books. The art for Ghost Frequencies, therefore, is the first quarter of the painting - the ghostly lady in front of a burning mansion. I have to say that I think Ben has done a great job not only overall, but also of capturing the spirit of my own book. I can't wait to see it in print.

No word yet on the publication date, but as soon as I get it, and as soon as I feel able to speak more directly about the nature of the story itself, I'll post here.


Scienceville five weeks on, and vague future plans

I just posted Chapter Three of Last Tour of the Apocalypse to my Patreon page. So, a reminder: if you not only want to read a new book by me, one following on from the events in Extinction Game and Survival Game, you can not only read it as it appears chapter by chapter every couple of weeks, right now, you can see it in its raw form, meaning somewhat edited, but not quite polished. And it'll only cost you a dollar or so a month to read them as they appear.

It's a bit over a month now since I published Scienceville and Other Lost Worlds and, well...it's done pretty well, actually! It's sold a lot more copies than I thought it would. As for how much it's made - enough for me to take my ageing and wheezing 2012 MacBook Pro to the GuangHua Digital Plaza in central Taipei a couple of weeks after the launch and get it upgraded to a shiny new 256Gb SSD drive. And now it just whizzes along.

And, you know, if you haven't read it yet, you could always click on that link on the right (if you're seeing this on a computer screen, anyway) and buy Scienceville. If you're reading this on a phone, here's a link to the relevant Amazon page.

And the collection does continue to sell, I'm delighted to say. There are several four or five star ratings on Goodreads, but just the one lonely five-star review on Amazon UK. If you read it and liked it, consider leaving a quick review on Amazon.

For the moment, I'm keeping the collection exclusive to Amazon, but at some point eventually I guess I'm going to have to 'go wide' and sell it on other platforms as well. I'm also - slowly - designing a paperback version too. My hope is I might even be able to persuade some convention vendors in the UK to take a couple of copies, but we'll see.

One side note: while the book is selling well, about 95% of those sales are in the UK. Sales in the US, by contrast, remain very low. Why this is, or why none of my books have gained traction in the US, at least not in terms of scoring a Stateside book deal, is something that's long escaped me. But I also know it's the case that many, many British sf writers just don't seem to appeal that much to American readers, bar a certain minority, so perhaps that's the case here. If so, fair enough: I know where my audience lies.

The collection is doing well enough - and will, one can only hope, continue to do well enough - that I'll now seriously consider writing something specifically for future self-publication. To be clear, this does not mean I am abandon traditional publishing: far from it. But I am a fan of the hybrid model, wherein you can pursue a career in both. 


Last Tour of the Apocalypse: an update.

I mentioned a while back I've been working on an "unofficial" third book in the series begun by Extinction Game and continued by Survival Game. "Unofficial" because it'll be published, most likely, by me, and certainly not by Tor. It's the third book that people ask for, that Tor didn't want, and which I wrote anyway.

I also started a Patreon in the hopes it might provide me with at least a little extra financial support while I wrote that book. There's some, but I wouldn't mind a little more.

Last week, I completed a second draft of Last Tour. It's still rough around the edges, because it changed a lot between drafts. Altogether, I cropped out maybe a third of the book and introduced new ideas and situations to replace those sections. Those amongst you who are professional writers will know this is often part of writing a novel: figuring out what works and what doesn't.

However, the book is getting close enough to its final shape I've decided to start posting chapters, as they've edited, to my Patreon. The chapters are, naturally, locked to my patrons, so if you're really, really super-duper keen to see what happens in the third book, that's where you'll find it: I'll be posting chapters on a rough schedule of maybe/kinda/sorta once every two weeks. Maybe less, maybe more. I'll see.

I'm calling it the 'beta' draft, by which I mean, like a piece of software pre-release, it has a lot of rough edges to be smoothed out, and I'm hoping you can help by adding your comments to each chapter as it's posted. To find my Patreon page, you can click on the button up there on the top right of the page as seen on a computer. Hope to see you there. 


Scienceville & Other Lost Worlds: a collection of five stories

I spent the last week putting together a short collection of mostly previously published stories called SCIENCEVILLE AND OTHER LOST WORLDS, available, for the moment at least, exclusively on Kindle.

Here's the link to buy it: myBook.to/Scienceville. The link is universal, meaning wherever you are in the world, it'll take you to the Amazon website for that region.

The stories are:

SCIENCEVILLE, a novelette, first published in Interzone magazine in 2015.

SENSELESS, first published in Shoreline of Infinity magazine in 2016.

THE LONG FALL, a previously unpublished novelette set in the world of Extinction Game and Survival Game.

GUATEMALA, previously unpublished; and

THE RANCH, first published in an anthology of science fiction by Scottish writers called Thirty Years of Rain.

All of these stories, bar one, were written over the last three years. The exception is The Ranch, which I wrote sometime back in the mid-2000s. There are other, earlier stories published in Interzone and other places, dating from the early 90s onwards, which I could have included, but I think they're showing their age a little.

I've published ebooks on Amazon before, but the difference this time around is I'm publishing my stuff, rather than someone else's. I learned a lot from working on those books, all of them by writers I knew, and looking back I can now see what mistakes I made. Most of them were also collections of short stories, and what I know now that I did not then is that short story collections do not sell very well, certainly when compared to their novel-length brethren. It doesn't help that few people are willing to take a chance on names they don't recognise. The very few book-length projects I worked on under the Brain in a Jar Books umbrella, by contrast, did notably better. Well, most of them, anyway.

But Gary, you might ask, if nobody buys short story collections, why are you putting one out?

Well, if you've paid any attention to what I've been saying here over the past few years, I've been  busy writing a third book in the Authority series that started with Extinction Game and Survival Game. Right now, that's perhaps a few months from being ready for beta readers, perhaps even just a few weeks. And since it's unlikely anyone else will want to publish it, there's a very good chance I'll be going it alone once it's ready and publish it myself.

Putting out a short story collection will give me the opportunity to do a deep dive into how the modern Kindle market works, and that experience may w ell be invaluable. And I happen to think these stories are the best short fiction I've written. I'm particularly happy with how Scienceville came out - and remember, you can download a free copy of that novelette by signing up to my mailing list.

And a reminder; this collection contains an exclusive novelette set in the world of Extinction Game and Survival Game. A modified version of it will also form part of the third Extinction book, which I'm currently calling Last Tour of the Apocalypse. I do get occasional emails asking if there are going to be any more books set in that universe, so now is your chance to get a first taste of one.

Of course, if you're a Patreon supporter, you'll already have seen rough drafts of parts of Last Tour,  as well as some other bits and pieces. Anyhow! Buy it, download it, read it, and for God's sake, leave a review. Remember: the more sales I have, the more I can keep writing. 


A podcast of Scienceville is now live

I'm happy to say that my novelette Scienceville, which first appeared in Interzone and which is also available to download here for people who subscribe to my mailing list, is now also available as a podcast from Starship Sofa. The Starship Sofa podcast has been running for years now, and it's one of the best science fiction audio drama podcasts going, indeed perhaps even the best. The story is narrated by Thomas Pipkin, who does a terrific job of handling all the many accents, both male and female.

If you want to take a listen, go here


Libraries, and why they're important to writers as well as readers.

Apart from the fact they're a really good place to borrow free books, libraries - and I'm talking about British libraries here specifically - can be a source of sometimes significant income for a writer.

I'm not sure enough people are aware of this, and since a new annual payment has just rolled around, I think it's worth highlighting. Every year, the UK library service takes all of the loans its made of an author's book and pays the author based on the number of loans. The amount of money varies from year to year, but this year, it's 8.2 pence per loan.

That's one of the great things about UK libraries; not only do they let you find writers you like for free, they still pay the author. Yes, it's a minimal sum, but it's also a good way for people to find writers they like - and to later go and buy their books instead of just borrowing them.

Again, 8.2 pence a throw might not seem like much, and it isn't: but it adds up, and fast, especially if you've got a good few books out, like me. It's one of the things I look forward to and factor into my annual income.

This year, I'll be getting about £450 in total - the equivalent, at current exchange rates, of $620. It's not the highest, or the lowest, payment I've had. The lowest was £251 in 2008, the highest £840 in 2016.

I had ten novels published through Tor, and all are represented in the latest statement. Extinction Game this time around has the highest number of loans: just under one and a half thousand. Against Gravity has the lowest number of loans, at just 67. All the others range between that figure and the one for Extinction Game.

You can see how it adds up quickly. That money goes towards food, bills, mortgage, etc, etc. and the  less libraries there are, the harder it will be for most working writers. So if you can't afford to read my books or anyone else's, remember: every time you borrow one of my books, I will benefit. 


New Year, New You!

So, you know, I've been busy doing stuff, and some of that stuff has been on Patreon (see the link on the right).

I feel slightly awkward shilling for myself in this respect, because, as I've said in the past, I don't see myself as being terribly good at doing things like hand making chapbooks or dashing out quickie short stories for an exclusive audience: I'm more of a quietly-working-in-silence-and-refining-everything-to-the-nth-degree type of writer. Patreon is really a form of performance - musicians using Patreon perform music, artists post artwork, and writers write in whatever public ways it's possible to do that.

But I'm not really a performer that way. Instead, I've been posting some occasional exclusive and more semi-exclusive stuff. Over the past three months, my few Patreon supporters have got from me: a couple of deleted chapters from Survival Game (including story notes), a short story first published in a Scottish sf magazine, and a novelette set in the same universe as Extinction Game and Survival Game.

Anyhoo, next time around I'm going to be putting up a blog post exclusive to Patreon supporters. If you've ever wondered what the next book in the Shoal Sequence would have been about, you can find out - but again, only if you're a Patreon supporter. The blog entry should go up on Patreon a couple of days into February. 


The Great Muse yells Bingo: or, that was 2017

That's my editing work done for the year. The last couple of months have been super-busy with a ton of work coming in. I'm a long way from complaining, but hopefully I can spend the next couple of weeks catching up on other, more personal projects. Meaning, of course, I hope to do a lot more writing through to early January.

So I thought it might be nice, now I actually have time to do things like blog, to take note of this year. What I've been doing, what's ahead, and what I read that I got a kick out of.

Over the past twelve months I've been keeping busy producing fiction in the form of three novellas - although one of them, still in progress, is edging deeper into novel territory.

The first, Ghost Frequencies, a contemporary ghost story and hard sf thriller, is to be published in the near future by NewCon Press, a highly-regarded small press in the UK well-known for the quality of their work.

The second, Devil's Road, is quite a different beast, being more in the vein of science fantasy/horror. Not only that, unlike pretty much anything else I've ever written, it's influenced by cinema rather than literature. In a way, it's a love letter to the science fiction films of the 1980s, particularly those directed by John Carpenter. It's still currently under submission to a publisher, but I'm hopeful it'll sell.

The third is, of course, a sequel to Extinction Game and Survival Game, tentatively titled Last Tour of the Apocalypse. I'd figured this would top out at somewhere around forty thousand words, but at the time of writing it's slightly north of 55,000 words and about three quarters of the way through a substantial and deep second draft.

I also got started on a full-length novel, called Proxy. That's stalled for the moment at about thirty thousand words. Progress with it is fine, but I've decided to put it to one side and concentrate on finishing Last Tour.

Well, hopefully in the next year I might sell Echogenesis, which I spent most of 2016 writing after my relationship with Tor UK ended in late 2015. I'm pretty confident it'll sell, but when is another matter. Mainstream publishing, even two decades into the 21st Century, remains as glacially slow as ever. My plan for next year is to finish Last Tour, then finish Proxy, and then begin another project.

Hopefully I'll get enough editing work to sustain me, but more stable employment is something I need to consider in the coming year, as I will no longer have regular payments from a publisher to sustain me outside of bi-annual royalty payments and a single annual payout from British library services. Those alone can add up to a couple of grand, and hence are not insubstantial, but again aren't enough to live on.

In case you're wondering how I feel about all this, I'm fine. I'm confident both in my abilities as a writer and in my prospects for selling the stories I write. I've read enough biographies of writers and also met enough well-known writing professionals to know that dips in one's fortunes are far from unexpected. There is no slow and steady progress for most working writers: instead it's a craggy sine-wave of peaks and deliriously long troughs.

On the other hand, I'm writing Last Tour in the full knowledge the chances of any mainstream publisher taking it on are roughly nil compared to, say, my chances of writing something entirely original. There's interest from at least one small-press, but first I have to finish the damn thing. And if it comes to it, I have no objections to self-publishing it.

About halfway through the year, I started using a piece of software called Timing. It culls data and tells you how long you've spent working on specific projects or in specific apps. As a result, I know that since about mid-June I've spent approximately 271 hours writing fiction, and 172 hours working on book critiques.

Until a couple of months back, I avoided doing too much critique work so I could focus on writing fiction, living mostly off savings and the last incoming payments from Tor UK as well as royalties. As a result, since the start of 2017 I've managed to write about 150,000-160,000 words of fiction: two novellas, a second draft of a short novel, and the first thirty thousand words of the first draft of a full novel.

If I assume my output in the first half of 2017 is roughly equivalent to that in the second half (to be honest, I think it's probably a lot more, but let's keep things simple for now), I've spent a total of perhaps 550-600 hours writing fiction.

If you break that down into days, it doesn't actually seem that much compared to, say, a year of full working days. But writing tends to come in sudden stops and starts, with a great deal of work often done in a relatively short period of time. It also doesn't necessarily include the time spent staring at a screen, trying to figure out what happens next, or walking the dog and letting ideas roll around in your head until the Great Muse yells Bingo. Add that in, and realistically I'd say the figure is closer to, I dunno, maybe 800 hours?

Since I was writing Last Tour without the hope of a book deal, I started a Patreon account. I had a long, hard think about this before I decided to set it up, partly because I knew (and said) that I wasn't likely to come up with much in the way of 'rewards': new or original stuff you couldn't get elsewhere, made specifically for a Patreon audience. Some people are really good at that kind of thing (Hal Duncan) because, after all, a lot of the people on Patreon are essentially performers. Writers aren't really performers, after all. And while some churn out short stories for Patreon, I'm much too much of a slow and careful writer for that to really fit my personality.

And then again, I've not really gone out of my way to promote it, because, after all, what do you get out of it except the thing I'm already doing anyway? At the moment, it's got two tiers - one, for a dollar a month, where you get nothing but the joy of supporting me, and another, for five dollars a month, where you get some piece of work chucked your way - excerpts from Last Tour, for instance, or a previously unavailable short story.

In 2018 I hope to finish Last Tour and talk to those interested in publishing it - as I say, a small-press. Or, I may self-publish it or, as I've been thinking, do both. Then I hope to finish and sell Proxy, along with Echogenesis. Then, hopefully at last I'll be able to start on something closer to what a lot of people would clearly really prefer I get to work on - a space opera of some nature.

Reading: in 2017, I read about sixty books. Of these, the standouts, for me, were Homage to Catalonia by George Orwell; Bird Box by Josh Malerman; I Am Providence, by Nick Mamatas; Six Wakes by Mur Lafferty; The Flicker Men by Ted Kosmatka; Afterparty, by Darryl Gregory; and Thatcher Stole My Trousers by Alexei Sayle.

If I had to pick three favourite out of those, it would be Homage to Catalonia, Afterparty and Six Wakes. 

I read a couple of excellent novellas published by Tor.com, who, to me, are clearly just about the most interesting publisher around right now. Unlike most other publishers, they seem willing to explore different models better suited to the 21st Century. I read and particularly enjoyed The Twilight Pariah by Jeffrey Ford and The Ghost Line by Andrew Neil-Gary and JS Herbison. Both are haunted house stories, although one is set in contemporary America and the other is set on board an abandoned liner lost somewhere in the solar system.  In non-fiction, I found Ashlee Vance's biography of Elon Musk to be highly enjoyable. A remarkable man, but clearly not an easy one to be around even in the best of circumstances.

I also re-read some old favourites - I have a habit of buying books I already have in hardcopy if they turn up cheap on Kindle. I re-read Excession by Iain M. Banks, to remind myself how he handles space opera. I finally read the final book in Douglas Adams' Hitchhiker's series, completing a story I first came across on Radio Four sometime in, I think, 1981.

I don't normally write about books I didn't like, but I feel I need to mention Dave Egger's The Circle as one of the best-written dumb books I've ever come across. Talk about craft in the service of idiocy. I thought at the time of writing a very long, very detailed review of the book at the time I read it, but all I'll say right now is that it's one of the most witless, light-weight and badly thought-out books I've come across, built as it is around a core message that bears little relationship to actual human behaviour. It's the literary equivalent of an old man in the street shouting at everyone passing him by that using mobile phones is going to make their gonads shrivel. Egger's is clearly a fine writer - I read A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius some years ago, although I never completed it - but I wasn't in the least bit surprised to discover he made a point of not doing any research before writing this book. It shows.

And that's it. On to 2018!