A race to the finishing line, and 2018 highlights

Yes, I’ve fallen radio silent of late, necessarily so! I’ve been racing to the finishing line for my fourth novel, Bridge 108, which is set in the same world as my debut, A Calculated Life.

And I made it with several days to spare as it turned out. I emailed the manuscript to my editor as my first family visitors arrived for the holiday season. Bridge 108 is due to be published in early 2020.

I’ve completed this novel while unpacking at our new home on the Isle of Bute, Scotland, and embarking on some pretty disruptive house rejigging. A more sensible person would have avoided further complications. But I embarked on the finickity business of organising train tickets and visas for a month-long journey from Paris to Beijing, via Moscow, Astana and Almaty in Kazakhstan, and Ürümqi in north west China. Garry and I set off at the end of August, returning in early October after a remarkable and unforgettable adventure.

2019 will be a tad quieter! We plan to explore the west coast of Scotland in our free time, see the islands that we’ve not already visited.

Highlights of 2018:

Umm, well, I still pinch myself over the biggest news of all—Dreams Before the Start of Time won the 2018 Arthur C. Clarke Award. And my first novella, The Enclave, won the British Science Fiction Association’s Award for Best Short Fiction. These successes have brought me new opportunities, and I’m delighted that I am now represented by the Sarah Such Literary Agency.

The journey across Central Asia proved to be an exceptional experience, with many individual highlights. I’ve already posted about the amazing visit to the Eurasian Pole of Inaccessibility. However, I’d like to end 2018 by telling you about two wonderful writers who I met en route.

I arranged in advance to meet Zira Naurzbayeva in Astana, the capital of Kazakhstan.

One the highlights of my year: meeting Kazach writer Zira Naurzbayeva, author of The Beskempir.

Zira and I met on a Saturday afternoon at the National Library, and our conversation was as memorable as any I can recall in all my travels either as a fiction writer or, in my earlier career, as a journalist. I had arranged to meet Zira after reading an extract from her non-fiction work The Beskempir, translated by Shelley Fairweather-Vega. The Beskempir translates as Dragon Grandmothers and the book relates the experiences of a generation of women who struggled with the transition from village communities in the Soviet era to modern-day urban life in Kazakhstan. You can read the extract, here.

Hopefully, one day soon, Zira will find an English-language publisher for this book, so we may glean a fascinating insight into the 20th century history of Central Asia.

Little did I know before meeting Zira, that her own family history mirrored the political upheavals and economic catastrophes endured by Kazakhstan—the confiscations of livestock by the Red Army during the Russian Civil War, the push by Joseph Stalin to collectivise farming and fishing, the decline of the fishing industry at the Aral Sea, and the impact of the Soviet nuclear testing programme in eastern Kazakhstan.

We chatted about the difficulty of writing family history, how members of a family can hold diverging recollections of important events. And how some people prefer to move on rather than rake up the past.

But I came away, wishing that Zira would write a family history. I’m so thrilled that we managed to meet and I’m grateful to Shelley Fairweather-Vega for making the introduction.

In Beijing, I was honoured to meet Lin Zhe, author of the brilliant novel Old Town. A wonderful end to my west-east journey.

In Beijing, I met the prolific author and scriptwriter Lin Zhe whose novel Old Town is a remarkable family saga set in the latter half of the twentieth century. It’s an eye-opening read, and it’s been a big hit both as a novel and as a popular TV series in China. We had a fun afternoon together, which involved much eating of cake! And it was fascinating to talk about the merging of fiction and memoir in Old Town.

In fact, I’ve read a good number of memoirs in 2019. It may seem odd, but when I’m drafting science fiction, I often prefer to read, by way of a mental break, either non-fiction or novels with a contemporary setting.

So, here’s my top memoir reads this year:

Self & I – A Memoir of Literary Ambition by Matthew De Abaitua

The Outrun by Amy Liptrot

Good Children of the Flower by Hong Ying

Department of Speculation by Jenny Offill

A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway

The Cost of Living and Things I Don’t Want to Know by Deborah Levy

This is the Place to be by Lara Pawson

 

Thanks for all your support in 2018!

Stay well in 2019, and happy reading, everyone!

Recent reading: Self & I by Matthew De Abaitua, and more

Making the best of a bitterly cold weekend on Bute, I curled up on the sofa beside my new stove, and read a pre-publication copy of Matthew De Abaitua’s Self & I: A Memoir of Literary Ambition. I fully expected both an insightful and a witty read!

The premise is irresistible — De Abaitua reflects on the mid-1990s when as a young, searingly ambitious graduate from the University of East Anglia’s creative writing programme he’s hired as live-in writing assistant, or amanuensis, to the already successful, much-in-demand author, Will Self.

Did the book live up to expectations? Well, yes it did!

Will Self has decamped from London to a remote cottage in Suffolk. De Abaitua’s daily tasks range from clearing the fire grate, cycling to the nearest village on postal and shopping errands, transcribing taped interviews (one between Self and JG Ballard), brewing opium tea and taking messages from Self’s agent, publishers and commissioning editors at newspapers. The job constitutes a lucky break since the alternative for De Abaitua is returning to the north to pick up his old job as a security guard on the Liverpool docks.

I felt lucky myself in reading this memoir; the reader seems to eavesdrop in effect on conversations between Self and De Abaitua on lofty literary matters, about modernism, the morality of style. Fascinating stuff. All the while, De Abaitua casts around for subject matter as a springboard for his own writing, though he worries that as a young man he hasn’t lived long enough to make a decent stab at writing fiction: “Beginnings are all you know”. The memoir suggests to me that De Abaitua had plenty of material to mine from his own tough teenage years, but I expect he needed a bit of distance, two decades of distance, to make sense of it all.

He takes a tentative step forward by asking his friend Nelson to taperecord conversations at the bar where he works. De Abaitua transcribes these tapes in his spare time in Suffolk hoping, trusting, that he’ll find inspiration from this collection of incoherent fragments. He recognises that incoherence is truthful.

Stories have a beginning, middle and end. Life is mostly middle.

With my past life as a visual artist, I’m especially intrigued that while De Abaitua is holed up in Suffolk his ideas for fiction projects seem akin to conceptual art projects. Nelson’s tape recordings of bar conversations prompt De Abaitua to consider writing a story about a collector of such tapes called William Mooch.

Mooch can source, for the right price, a recording of any conversation a client requests; the pillow talk of the rich and powerful, the itemised guilt of the confession booth, and all the things they say about you behind your back.

I’m reminded of Tom McCarthy’s surrealist novel Remainder (one of my all-time favourite novels), and Don DeLillo’s Zero K (one of my favourite reads last year) in which the novel’s settings convey the atmosphere of art installations.

Adding to this surrealist bent, Will Self suggests to De Abaitua that, as an exercise in attentiveness, he should attempt to give physical form to an object he sees in a dream. De Abaitua takes the advice. In one dream, he stands by the white dome of Sizewell nuclear reactor and he holds a black frying pan with the shape of a crescent moon cut into the pan’s base. An irridescent glow fills the crescent. With this image in mind, he tries to commission a Suffolk ironmonger to recreate his dream vision by cutting out a crescent shape in a pan. But sadly the plan doesn’t pan out (sorry!) The ironmonger chases him off the premises. In a change of tack, De Abaitua considers recreating moments from his dreams as short films.

Ambition, rites of passage and the various measures of success (and failure) are themes throughout this generous and honest memoir. De Abaitua muses, towards the memoir’s end, that employing an amanuensis might itself be a measure of a writer’s success.

By the way, De Abaitua did eventually use the bar room conversations as a starting point—for a short story “Inbetween”, published in the best-selling anthology of rave fiction, Disco Biscuits. He now has three novels to his name and his debut novel Red Men was shortlisted for the Arthur C Clarke Award in 2008.

Self & I (Eye Books) by Matthew De Abaitua will be published late March 2018.

Other reading this year

I decided to read a few more novels published in 2017/18 that are vying for shortlists this year and next:

Euphoria by Hinz Heller (translated by Kári Driscoll)—a short and brutal post-apocalyptic novel with a strong concept—four blokes emerge from a weekend reunion in a ski chalet to find a devastated world.

Paris Adrift: I read a pre-publication copy of E.J. Swift’s wonderful novel centred on bohemian life in contemporary Paris, neatly slipstreamed with a time-travel story. This is political speculative fiction at its best, beautifully written. Swift’s characters are absolutely believable as young drifters and dreamers, part of a Parisian sub-culture of low-wage bar workers. I can see this book transferring brilliantly to the screen!

America City by Chris Beckett. This is another example of political SF, set in a future US when politicians face the problem of major internal migrations from storm-lashing on the east coast and desertification in the south. This story stayed with me long after I finished reading it.

H(A)PPY by Nicola Barker, a compelling experimental novel, a fragmented dystopian story, which won the Goldsmith Prize in 2017.

Exit West by Mohsin Hamid, a contemporary story of refugees seeking a safe place to live, with a fantastical story device allowing people to flee from one continent to another through magical doors.

Happy reading, everyone!

Launch Event for 2084 Anthology — Inspired by Orwell

Following a hugely successful Kickstarter by publisher Unsung Stories — thanks to all of you who pledged — the 2084 anthology , edited by George Sandison, is now published. I’ll be part of the launch event next Tuesday (3 October) in London, so if you’re in the neighbourhood please drop by!

Early reviews, I’m bound to say, are pretty glowing.

Unsung Stories is teaming up with the Post Apocalyptic Book Club to host this special panel event as part of the club’s Dark Societies series.

Leila Abu el Hawa will discuss these 15 dystopian short stories, inspired by George Orwell’s 1984, with contributing authors Malcolm Devlin, Aliya Whiteley, Anne Charnock, Lavie Tidhar, E.J. Swift.

Full list of contributors in no particular order: Jeff Noon, Christopher Priest, E. J. Swift, Courttia Newland, James Smythe, Lavie Tidhar, Aliya Whiteley, David Hutchinson, Cassandra Khaw, Irenosen Okojie, Desirina Boskovich, Ian Hocking, Malcolm Devlin, Oliver Langmead and Anne Charnock.

I’m delighted to be in such fine company!

Details:
The Star of Kings, 126 York Way London, Greater London N1 0AX
Tuesday, 3 October, 19:00
Copies of the book including super-smart hardbacks will be on sale at the event.

How Writers Write

My thanks to author Tony Ballantyne, for inviting me to his lovely blog to add to his series on How Writers Write. I’ve done my best in this post to be open about my writing process, but I suspect I’ve revealed a little too much about my love of spreadsheets.
Nevertheless, it was fun to write and I’ve enjoyed reading the other posts in this series. I hope you do too!

Time to Cut the Cord with the Stone Age: my essay on The F-Word

The UK contemporary feminist website The F-Word has published my essay today: Time to Cut the Cord with the Stone Age.

I’m really delighted to raise the issues of future reproductive technologies in this forum. This is the subject matter I delve into in my latest 47North novel, Dreams Before the Start of Time.

So timely too. It’s now official in Nature – news was circulating last week – that scientists in the US have successfully used CRISPR gene editing on human embryos to delete the gene for a heritable heart condition. All experimental at this stage, but bound to be highly controversial.

No doubt this major advance will be discussed next week at my panel at Worldcon 75 in Helsinki: Human Reproduction in Science Fiction. See my events page.

And now I really must pack my bags for Nine Worlds and Worldcon 75! Hope to see some of you there.

Interview at BSFA/SFF Annual Meeting, and a Conversation with Author Irenosen Okojie

Two brief updates that I’m really chuffed to share with you.

I’m really honoured that I’ll be a special guest of the British Science Fiction Association at their AGM and mini-convention on 17th June at Imperial College, London. Author Stephanie Saulter will be the special guest of the Science Fiction Foundation. The day’s mini-convention events – interviews and a panel discussion – are open to all. Tempted to come along? Here’s the latest information.

Irenosen Okojie, winner of a Betty Trask Award.

The Ada Lovelace Conversation #3 — Irenosen Okojie

As the Arthur C. Clarke Award’s  ‘interviewer in residence’ — what a great title! — I took the opportunity to chat with author Irenosen Okojie about her wonderful short story collection, Speak Gigantular. We discuss our varying approaches to fiction writing and where we find playfulness in the process.

This exchange proved to be a brilliant learning experience. I hope you enjoy the conversation as much as we did! Read the Ada Lovelace Conversation #3 with Irenosen Okojie here.

Read more

RELEASE DAY: Dreams Before the Start of Time

I can hardly believe I’m typing this: my THIRD novel is published today — Dreams Before the Start of Time.

This near-future novel suggests what it will mean to be a parent, a child, a family when science offers new ways of conceiving and giving birth — when artificial wombs free women from the pain and dangers of childbirth, when eggs can be created from stem cells, when a man can create a baby without a woman, and a woman can create a baby without a man. How will these breakthroughs affect relationships and the status of motherhood in society?

In other words, as a writer of speculative fiction, I give myself license to imagine both the intended and unintended consequences!

Dreams Before the Start of Time, published by 47North, received a boost pre-release, receiving a starred review from Publishers Weekly. And today, release day, I’m thrilled to bits to read this review on From Couch to Moon.

Here are snippets of early reactions to the novel: Read more

Novella Release! The Enclave from NewCon Press

enclave-hardbacks

The limited edition, signed hardback! I love it!

All three formats of my first novella, The Enclave, have now been released by NewCon Press: eBook, limited edition hardback and paperback!

I’ve always stated that I’d never write a sequel to A Calculated Life (47North). And I haven’t done so! 

The Enclave cuts across the world of A Calculated Life with a cast of new characters. I felt strongly that I had far more to say about the lives of the unenhanced, fully organic population living out in the enclaves. And it was immensely rewarding for me to return to that world.

It’s a standalone novella (a smidge over 20,000 words). If you’ve read A Calculated Life, I hope you’ll enjoy the occasional echo from that novel.

If you’re tempted to read the novella… you have the choice of a splendid limited edition, signed hardback (or paperback) from the NewCon website here. Or a Kindle eBook here.

Many thanks go to Ian Whates at NewCon Press for inviting me contribute to this wonderful series of four novellas, including works by Alastair Reynolds, Simon Morden and Neil Williamson. Art work by Chris Moore. Read more

A Conversation with Matt Hill, Author of Graft—Finalist for the Philip K. Dick Award 2017

Matt Hill's novel Graft is a finalist for the Philip K. Dick Award 2017.

Matt Hill’s novel Graft is a finalist for the Philip K. Dick Award 2017.

It’s incredibly timely to post this conversation—originally published by Strange Horizons under the title Manchester, A Tale of Two Dystopias—because of two exciting events:

Last week, the Philip K. Dick Award announced that Matt’s novel Graft is a finalist for the 2017 Award. Many congratulations, Matt!

And in two weeks’ time, NewCon Press will publish my novella, The Enclave, written in the world of A Calculated Life—itself a finalist for the Philip K. Dick Award in 2013. You can pre-order the Kindle eBook or Paperback/Limited Edition Hardback 🙂 Read more

UPDATE: Full Cover for Dreams Before the Start of Time and more…

A slightly belated Happy New Year, everyone! I hope I’ll be blogging more often this year—posting more conversations with some of my favourite authors and offering updates on writing projects. 

Last year was a full-on writing year, which meant I kept a very low profile. I seemed to spend the entire year flitting on-screen between Scrivener and a variety of news streams as I tried to make sense of the political shifts on both sides of the pond. How to respond? Probably through writing fiction!

During 2017, I’ll be out and about talking about my upcoming novel, Dreams Before the Start of Time (47North), and my novella, The Enclave (NewCon Press). Pre-ordering is now on for both titles in all formats.

Publishers Weekly ‘Most Anticipated’

Dreams Before the Start of Time is one of Publishers Weekly’s most anticipated titles of Spring 2017. I couldn’t hope for a better start! Read more

Cover Release: The Enclave from NewCon Press

My first novella-length piece of fiction—The Enclave—will be published by NewCon Press in February 2017, as part of a series of four science fiction novellas. Chris Moore has created a stunning piece of art that spans the series.

theenclavecoverfinal

I’ve lost count of the number of readers who have asked for a sequel to A Calculated Life. I’ve resisted the pressure because the novel feels complete to me! However, last year I mooted the idea of a companion piece that would cut across the world of A Calculated Life, set in the enclave outside Manchester, which featured in the novel.

Well, here it is! The Enclavea standalone novella. It will be published in excellent company, as follows: Read more