Deadlines and Cakes

There’s a certain kind of vindication from signing a three book deal. Especially when it comes from someone like Gollancz, who are in many ways of the leading publishers of science-fiction and fantasy. If they believe my book is good enough to sit on their shelf alongside titles by Philip K. Dick, William Gibson, Joe Abercrombie and Terry Pratchett, then, really, who I am to say otherwise?

The publishing climate being what it is, any book that gets picked up by a major publisher has been to be polished until it shines, and then polished some more. It takes effort, time, concentration, and discipline. And once you’ve signed up for a trilogy, you sort of have to do it again. And again. And suddenly, writing’s not quite as carefree and enjoyable as it once might have been.

I wrote STORMBLOOD in just over six months. It wasn’t all rainbows, but it was fun. Head down to my favourite writing spot at the beach with my laptop, slam out 3000-4000 words a session, spending half a dozen leisurely hours building my world. Carefree as eating another slice of cake. The only deadlines were my own, and the only editor was my internal one. Now, with actual money and contracts involved, things aren’t quiet as easy. Less so when, from today, this book that I’m writing is due to be published in less than 18 months. The first draft isn’t even halfway done, and the deadline’s already looming.

Dead. Line. Even the name sounds a wee bit ominous.

Fact of the matter is: you’ve got to treat it like a job, because it is. And you’ve got to be disciplined and putting in the hours. Which I can do (he said, grumbling). It’s finding the careful balance between pleasure and pain, work and leisure, craft and chore, that’s the problem. And then there’s the pressure. An enormous amount of pressure to get it right. It’s less easy to hit your daily wordcount when a little voice in the back of your head’s chattering away that every character, plot twist, character arc, name, location, set-piece, description, hell, every word you’re writing is going to be ingrained into the narrative forever (nevermind that, y’know, you can always edit straight after) and you’d better get it right.

So. Yeah. It’s not easy. But that’s what I signed up for, and I’m going to see it through. In a year’s time, when Book 2 is complete, if I’m not touting grey hair, ink-stained fingertips and gazing into the horizon with a glazed over expression, you can assume it went well.



A Statement regarding STORMBLOOD

I’ve had a few people inquire about my upcoming debut novel, STORMBLOOD, in regards to its genre and the audience it’s appealing to. Mainly if STORMBLOOD is a horror novel, or belongs in the horror genre, and if not, what genre is does belong to.

I wanted to clarify this by stating that STORMBLOOD isn’t a horror novel, it is not a body horror novel, nor does it have elements of the horror genre. It’s a space opera that combines a widescreen, future setting with elements of mystery, noir, and police procedural. The emphasis is on exuberance with a strong element of wonder, combined with a broodish, (slightly) cynical voice with a dry and ironic sense of humour.

Literary legend J. Cuddeon defines a horror story as “a piece of fiction… which shocks, or even frightens the reader, or perhaps induces a feeling of repulsion or loathing” (his words, not mine). That’s not the sort of thing I’m interesting in reading or writing, especially for a novel-length work. I write what I want to read. Simple as that. At the end of the day, fiction that induces “repulsion or loathing” isn’t my cup o’ tea. I like a good thrill as much as anybody, but that comes from narrative tension. Mood and tone are a different kettle of fish, and fiction that “repulses” isn’t something I want, or even know how to do.

In writing STORMBLOOD, I wanted there to be an element of danger, of tension, but I also worked hard to instill a sense of exuberance. A sense of wonder. I want the reader to encounter kilometre-long spaceships and different alien species and brain-bending gadgets and get a kick out of the scope and the coolness of it. To marvel at the idea of entire cosmopolitan, urban cities nestled inside a hollowed-out asteroid larger than the moon, of AIs with animal brains, neural-links, three-dee printers, etc.

To follow the complication of narrative leads with a twisting, looping plot. I want there to be a sense of adventure, of progress. To be in the same vein as space opera authors like  Ken Macleod, Cj Cherryh, Iain M. Banks, Hannu Rajaniemi and Alastair Reynolds: instilling a sense of adventure and progress, solving a mystery while encountering byzantine technology and brain-bending concepts against the backdrop of a widescreen, very futuristic, very cool setting. It’s what I’ve been reading all my life, so it’s only natural I took the same literary lifeblood and distilled it into my own writing.  It’s an exuberant, character-driven space opera, and this is going to be reflected in all marketing, covers, etc.

As it is, my publisher has described STORMBLOOD as such on Amazon:

A vibrant and talented new voice in SFF: alien technology, addictive upgrades, a soldier determined to protect his family, and a thief who is prepared to burn the world down . . .

Again: I don’t do sustained tone very well, let alone repulsion or loathing, my brain isn’t wired for it. STORMBLOOD combines a lot of things: mystery, adventure, space opera, crime, tension, exuberance, but horror isn’t one of them. It’s going to sit firmly in the science-fiction section of the store, not the horror section! I’m writing this to avoid future confusion, to clarify for people who were confused and to ensure that STORMBLOOD reaches the right people who are looking for what’s inside it, and not something else entirely I didn’t write. I apologise for the misdirection!


2018 Wrap-Up: A Year of Opposites

We’re about to blast into 2019, but it doesn’t quite feel like it. 2018 was such a major year for me that it’s weird to think it’s going to be gone. I’m going to sum up the year the way I do best: as straight-forwardly as possible.

2018 was an unusual year for me. Some good, some bad. Mostly good. The highs were pretty high, and the lows were, well, pretty low.

The biggest and most significant thing is The Book Deal. I wanted 2018 to be the year I sold a novel. I ended up selling three of them to Gollancz, my first choice publisher. I’m still reeling about that. As far as I know, I’m the only author to have snagged a three-book deal with Gollancz this year, let alone a debut novelist. When you consider that the novel trilogy we sold is a space opera, in an industry dominated by epic fantasy, it’s quite the surprise. Not that it was easy. The road to getting that deal was winding, looping, rocky and filled with crevices and mudslides and angry, carnivorous goats, but we landed there in the end.

The same can be said for the year in its entirety. I spent the first six months punching out a novel I’d started in October 2017. It wasn’t going well. I was having doubts about it. Felt I was out of my depth, the world-building too grandiose, the characters too similar to things I’d done before. It was much larger in scope than anything I’d written, and I had a lot more wet clay to carve into something resembling a narrative. None of this is new to an author. But I had other issues along the sidelines.

See, whatever’s going on in my life, I’ve always used writing and story-telling to ground me. It takes the edge off things and gets me channeling my energy into getting work done, and at the end of the day I have something I’m proud of. Writing aside: I like accomplishing things. Having something to show for my efforts. Writing is one of the ways I make that happen.

Say I don’t have a good writing day. I fall short of accomplishing what I want. Then I have another bad day. And another. I start to lose the willpower to get that writing done. I feel bad because I’m losing the motivation. I won’t let myself take the day off or have me-time, because I know it’ll fuel my unease of not getting work done. I won’t be able to enjoy anything properly, I’ll feel guilty. So I double my efforts. Which makes me doubly worried I’ll have another bad writing day, and I’m twice as on edge before the writing day has even started. Which slowly, grardually, burns away at my energy.

It took me the better part of the year to understand some things. That it’s okay to have a bad writing session. It’s okay to take the day off, to take the week off. It’s okay to see a movie, to wake up late, to head to the park. It’s okay to step away from the keyboard, it’ll be there when you get back. Because I’m a very driven, very go-get-it person, the idea of kicking back and allowing myself to put the tools down had to be pounded into my brain. I’m still working on de-compressing doing it effectively. Ploughing ahead, rain or sun, worked in 2017. It didn’t work this year. If it was anything but my writing, I’d be okay with taking breaks. But because it is, and because I use writing to improve my life, it hit hard. But it taught me an important lesson and helped me re-evaluate my work-ethic and my writing is all the better for it.

Because I’m all about giving the bad news first, I’ll now discuss the good. While I didn’t get much writing done in the short fiction department (I’ve not written a single non-flash piece the entire year), I did write a few flash pieces, and sold plenty more. I also had a few stories published for the first time, my favourite probably being Traumahead, and have scattered pieces upcoming next year and in 2020. I also got my work translated into two new languages: French and Spanish.

I also achieved my goal of reading more. To date, I’ve read 45 books this year. 15 short of my admittedly unrealistic goal of 60, but I’ve read more this year than any other year (and some of these were 650+ page monsters). I branched out into graphic novels. I narrowed down my tastes in both reading and watching, and trust myself pretty early on to bail out or not even bother if I’m bouncing off the material.

I did a bit of travelling, established a respectable gin collection (I stand at 15 now), got into shape, and generally improved my quality of life. I have a much better understanding of the things I need to do for myself (which is why some people, website and types of media have been all but expunged from my life. I haven’t missed them). But overall, I’m all the more happier for it.

Then there’s the book deal. Undoubtedly the highlight of the year. I’m only starting to now wrap my grey-matter around the notion the book I furiously packed all my passions and loves and vulnerabilities into, won’t just be getting published, it’s been taken by Gollancz as their leading sci-fi title of early 2020, and will be the first of a trilogy. My job for the next few years is to write and plan two sequels to the favourite thing I’ve ever written. Worlds and species and characters and eccentricities I thought might never see the light of day are going to be launched out into the world.

It’s strange because I always believed the novel I snagged an agent with would sell, and STORMBLOOD would be something I’d sell later on, when I gained more reputation. I thought using first-person instead of a multi-PoV third wouldn’t work in space opera, a genre that’s commonly so sprawling and spectacle-heavy. I thought the voice was too rough for equal reasons. Focusing more on character and relationship than plot, having a emotionally raw protagonist, downplaying the space opera elements and going more The Expanse than Star Wars, all these things I feared would work against me. It wouldn’t make it unsellable, just harder. I was happy to be mistaken, because Gollancz were the first and only folks to offer, so STORMBLOOD literally never had a single rejection, from agent or editor.

After the mountain of binned novels, unfinished synopsises, dead-end creative writing classes, unbaked short stories, brutal rejections from agents and publishers, the dream has finally come true and I’m ecstatic. Sure, I could have self-published, but going solo isn’t my laneway. I’d never be happy, and I’d always feel like I fell miserably short. Being with Gollancz isn’t just about the money, but the reassurance that a book I’ve poured litres of my blood, sweat and tears into has ended up in secure, safe hands and will be treated as a professional piece of literature by folks who do this for a living, and they’re going to do everything they can to ensure the book is a success. Considering how many horror stories I’ve heard about failed books, shoddy contracts, botched cover art, rubbish sales, lazy and malicious editors, it’s a relief to be in safe hands.

It’s also a reassurance of where my writing career is going, and how I’d be spending it. Back in May-June, stuck in the swamp of Personal Issues and burned out from the weight of my exhausting project, I thought my writing career was dead. That I’d lost the passion I’d had, that writing was a chore I had to manipulate myself into. Wind back a few years further, dusting off the residue of a lumpy book I hated writing, going to the store and rifling through all the space operas, the ones with spaceships, aliens, intergalactic politics, weird biotech and noir future cities and told myself never again.  I’d only write exactly what I wanted to write and nothing less. And this is what I wanted to write. So I did. And here I am.

The journey’s just beginning. There’ll be several rounds of brutal edits, copyediting, covers, line edits, promotion, blog tours, emails, communications, and a big, endlessly barrage of self-promotion and helping to bring this book to life. And that’s between writing the next two novels, shorter projects, short fiction, editing, and managing my life. It’s an on-going process, and I’m still learning how to navigate these waters. Thankfully, I’ve got a solid cornerstone of a publishing house backing me up. Hell, my editor is THE legendary Gillian Redfearn; the one who discovered Joe Abercrombie. The edits are going to be nothing less than brutal, as they should be, and I can’t wait to dig in.

Again, it’s been a life-long dream to get to this point. It’s not just a hobby that’s pair for, it’s now a job. A career change. And I’m going to love working it and I’m going to love getting STORMBLOOD (and the next two books!) out into the world. I do hope you’ll grab a copy, be it an ARC in 2019 or on wide release in Feb 2020.

And no matter what crops up, I’m going to do my best. In the end, that’s all you can really ask for.