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

The Enclave: a novella set within the world of A Calculated Life

front cover

The Enclave is set within the world of my debut novel A Calculated Life, finalist for the Philip K Dick Award and the Kitschies Golden Tentacle.

I’m thrilled to tell you that I’m working on a novella, The Enclave, which is a companion piece to my first novel, A Calculated Life. This SF novella will be one of four in a series including works by Alastair Reynolds, Simon Morden—such fabulous company!—commissioned by independent publisher NewCon Press. The fourth novella in the series will be announced in due course and all four will be published individually and later slip-cased to form a set. How exciting!

Since I completed A Calculated Life (47North), I’ve felt an itch to write a story set within the same world, one that weaves across the narrative rather than forming a sequel. So I’m excited to revisit life in the enclaves—home to society’s underclass late in the twenty-first century.

I’ve been radio silent in recent weeks for a good reason: I’ve been editing my third novel, Dreams Before the Start of Time. It’s a multi-generational story of two families spanning into the next century, and it will be published in April 2017 by 47North. In this novel, I imagine the impacts of likely advances in human reproductive technologies. It’s a standalone novel. However… one the main characters is Toni Munroe who appears in my second novel, Sleeping Embers of an Ordinary Mind. Read more