Four books I read in June

I’ve read two books where a teenager has to navigate a post-apocalyptic England – and two queer romances. You can miss good books if you scorn teenage protagonists.

We live in a world contemplating disaster. Writing about after allows stories of humans under pressure, and it can ask questions about how we organise ourselves, what we would lose, and perhaps here and there, what we might gain.  They don’t have to be right wing power fantasies. Read more here.

A boy and his dog by C A Fletcher shows the British Isles largely depopulated.  Gris’s family only knows one or two other families, scattered across the whole Western Isles. A stranger steals his dog, among other things, and impetuous Gris sails after him. Step by step Fletcher puts Gris in increasing danger, in a haunting vision of a world largely without humans. The author has a brilliant way of foreshadowing disaster, in a way that makes what actually goes wrong a complete surprise, with at least one unforgivable twist, and he brings it to a staggering ending.

The Book of Koli by M R Carey starts in a post-apocalyptic Yorkshire, where an isolated village is slowly shrinking – births being fewer than deaths. Surrounded by carnivorous trees and other mutants, the community is ruled by those who can make old technology work. Koli challenges this and ends up expelled.  Carey delivers originality and imagination, his humane take on the world is accessible. This is the first of a trilogy, in which Koli must see if humanity is doomed to die out.

Red White and Royal Blue is fun – Alex is the adult son of the female President of the US and dislikes tall handsome Prince Henry of the British Royal Family. (It’s set in a world where Trump lost). Obviously, they’re going to end up in love but it’s good clean entertainment getting there. Spin, the obsessions of the modern media, and the stultifying nature of monarchy add to the mix. Many people firmly believe it is bad to read books that make you happy, and they also believe it must be easy to write them.  I’m not going to read this sort of thing every day but it’s very successful, and even drips in a positive political worldview.  Passionate love scenes are tasteful.

Felix Ever After follows black trans artist Felix at art school in Brooklyn, it is about his struggles with bullying, including aggressive deadnaming, and not knowing what he wants to do with his talent. The title warns you that he gets his stuff together, though it’s sharper and less obvious than Red White and Blue. We need an assertion of the basic humanity of trans people.

12 weeks to go – Our Child of Two Worlds

Our Child of Two Worlds completes the story begun in my much-praised debut, Our Child of the Stars.  It will be published in the UK on Thursday 31 March 2022, in hardback, eBook and audiobook.  Please preorder it to avoid disappointment.

I am going to be busy promoting the book and talking about various aspects of it.

No spoilers here

Small-town USA, entering the Seventies. A childless couple Gene and Molly adopt a strange, wounded child of the stars they call Cory.  Molly is the main narrative voice – a passionate nurse fighting for her own extraordinary child. Cory is gentle, vibrant, excitable, endlessly curious and loving – and come from yet his otherworldly origins. bring both joy and danger

In Our Child of Two Worlds a figure from the past brings uncomfortable truths and Gene and Molly face the terrifying loss of everything they took for granted. A divided Earth is under threat – humanity needs Cory’s people to return to save the Earth – but if his people take him back, it will break Molly’s heart.

My writing offers hope, optimism, and a taste of humour, but still facing up to the dark and difficult side of life. I think books can create worlds a bit different from ours, and still be truthful, providing the characters feel real. It was fantastic how well the books landed with readers of all genres. I hope I make people think, but it’s always a good story, not a sermon.

It’s not about the pandemic, at least not directly.

Here’s a few thoughts to whet your appetite.

The stakes are higher than before – for the characters and the Earth. Gene, Molly, Cory and baby Fleur face hatred, danger, and separation. I liked my agent’s summary of the first book

…a big Hollywood canvas and an intense family focus, emotionally devastating, funny and charming all at once’

So to reassure you, the big picture stuff is seen through the family’s eyes.

I bring in three memorable new characters I’m very proud of to make life even more complicated.

It’s an end of the world novel in several respects. It was an era with a real threat of nuclear war and a growing understanding of how humanity could destroy the environment.

Add to that, there are malign forces in space which could destroy a squabbling Earth. At that time the superpowers were edging towards more normal relations – the President whose career was built on fighting communism is about to visit China. Is there enough sense of common humanity (or love for nature) to unite?

As ever, it asks what we owe each other in this life. As ever, how people disagree makes the world what it is.

Please spread the word

Becoming a writer, by Dorothea Brande

This small classic book was published in 1934 and is bang up to date.  That is, if you don’t mind that the piece of tech she recommends is a typewriter (as opposed to longhand).

Brande directs you to other works to study the structure of plot, how to write grammatically, and so forth.  What she teaches is how to understand the creative process and she recommends disciplines to help you be more creative and productive to order.  She argues that the process of writing combines the anarchic creative free flow that is in part coming from the unconscious, and a more rigorous detached intellectual self.  Both need to be firing on all cylinders but not necessarily the same amount at the same time.    Exercises include writing on first rising, and writing at a fixed time, as a discipline to generate initial pages, without undue concern about quality.

If you like, the metaphor of write drunk and edit sober, or the adage to write the first draft as if no one is watching.

I can’t claim to have followed her method, but in so far as I understand my own process, it seems sound enough.  Interesting that many other writing books don’t touch on this.

Brande has plenty of bugbears.  She doesn’t like group discussion of student work, as unfocused and prone to pile-ons – though she doesn’t call them that.  What listening to public criticism of your work does is teach you to receive feedback and learn how to be selective in what you act on. Some is just wrong.

The book is short, practical, and focused on areas which many other books skip over.  Indeed, Brande would argue by doing so, they are actively unhelpful. 

Becoming a Writer by Dorothea Brande

…Two Worlds making progress

September is probably my favourite month, for weather, foliage, and oddly a sense of a new start. 

The crucial news – I believe the draft of OUR CHILD OF TWO WORLDS has really come together.  It will only be one more sweep through – strength, consistency, etc – and it goes to Jo the Mighty (my editor).  Hopefully we will be moving to proper edits, a series of successively quicker to and fros…

For punctual updates, and in due course an original Cory short story… subscribe to my newsletter.

Interview with Suanne Schafer

Suanne is an American author who runs a regular author interview slot on her blog.  It was fun to do. We covered a lot including message fiction, whether SFF has to be political, and what makes a good book.

Regardless of genre, what are the elements that you think make a great novel? Do you consciously ensure all of these are in place?

SC: Characters that leap off the page and that you care about, situations that do not feel contrived. For me a world which acknowledges the dark and unfair side of life but addresses it with hope and humour. Voice. The sort of writing that takes you by the hand and says, Trust me, this will make sense in the end. This will be worth the journey.

Read it here.

Going virtual

Odd how a virus can change things.  I’ve been tied up fighting it, biologically, and at work.  And I’m waiting for the feedback on the latest draft of OUR CHILD OF TWO WORLDS.

EdgeLit in Derby has moved its event to November, so that still may be happening.

Cymera (more here) is going online and I’ve just filled in a long questionaire about what I can do online. (No juggling on a unicycle, I’m afraid.)

I’ve just done an interview for an author’s blog and there might be a couple of other things.  But really it’s about staying well, keeping up with the day job, and waiting for the notes…

And my writers group has gone online, using Zoom.  I’m looking at trying to do some videos or Q+As because launching in the US in a pandemic obviously hasn’t been ideal.

More when I have it.

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One Year On: Still Being Reviewed!

So a week and a year since the e-book first hit the aether and Our Child of the Stars still gets reviews.

A brilliant one on the British Fantasy Society website.

 

‘A heartwarming tale of love, loss and unity set in late 1960’s mid-town America’

The book may not bring peace among the nations but it is an interesting example of a book liked by science fiction fans and fantasy fans alike, as well as non-genre readers too.

 

The Birth of a Bookshop

Written for the ever-active Palmers Green Community blog…

The All Good Bookshop has opened in funky Blue House Yard, a couple of minutes walk from Wood Green Station.

In a few short months, the community rallied round to create this new bookshop for the area. It will be a cooperative, employing Tim West, one of the two men behind the famous Big Green Bookshop. They are seeking people to join the co-op, support, ideas, and customers. And they have ambitious plans.

A great bookshop is more than somewhere that sells books. A great bookshop adds to its community…

https://www.palmersgreencommunity.org.uk/pgc/newsmobile/2291-celebrating-the-all-good-bookshop

 

 

Paperback Writer 19th September

It’s a month till the UK launch of the paperback of Our Child of the Stars. (Thursday 19th Sept.) Anyone who wants one can pre-order it now from all good bookshops and the usual online retailers.

I’ve been blown away by the support and interest I’ve had from family, friends, and colleagues. I’ll take a little bit more of your patience if I can.

Pre-orders count towards the first week of sales, helpful for the charts. And also, not every shop will have it in, but most shops can order it.

The oddity of the way publishing works is that having devoted masses of effort to promoting the e-book, audio-book, and the hardback – despite the paperback being crucial to its commercial success – the paperback often gets less of a push. Although my publishers are doing some good things, which is more than some people get.

If you are on good terms with a bookshop or in a book group which might like it, let me know. The paperback has Readers Notes which I can share.

Word of mouth – or its shiny new friend, sharing on social media – really helps. If you feel moved to share the details I will be pushing out, I’d be grateful.

And the national press has been very generous to the book. In this anniversary of Woodstock and the Moon Landings, exactly why I decided to write about a childless American couple adopting an alien in 1969, remains a bit of a mystery. But most people who read it are not disappointed.

‘heartfelt, richly imaginative and gripping’ (SciFiNow)

‘sympathetic characterisation and fine storytelling’ (Guardian)

‘compelling… the same combination of science fiction and heart-tugging tenderness that Stephen King does so well.’ (Grazia)

‘An out of this world winner’ (Weekend Sport)

‘This strong and generous first novel wears its heart on its sleeve and embeds all the thrills and chills in credible human, and non-human, emotions.’ (Daily Mail)

‘A pleasing, big-hearted read’ (Financial Times)

‘Wholly fresh and intensely gripping’ (Interzone)

‘a wonderfully emotional, heart-warming journey of what it really means to be a parent’ (Los Angeles Times)

Thank you for listening.