I spent yesterday evening in Edinburgh at a reading by two fantasy authors of my acquaintance, Mike Cobley and Miller Lau. It was interesting seeing some of the other faces that turned up there. I went through partly because I wanted to get a handle on the experience, since there's every chance I'll be in that position sometime in the near-ish future. I think I can safely say I found it educational.

One good thing was getting a chance to chat to Andrew Wilson, who writes freelance book reviews for The Scotsman. I've been picking his brains about ideas for getting some decent press, including writing some kind of press release closer to the time, or persuading local radio stations to interview me. Radio Scotland has an early evening arts slot where they frequently talk to authors about their new books. I have no real idea how to go about these things, but I know people who know something about it, which helps.

I also got an email from my agent with the name of the person who's handling publicity for Angel Stations at Pan Macmillan/Tor UK - I can give them a ring and find out what's expected - or not expected - from me in the coming months.


I really hate magic cats. To me, they're the death of the imagination in writing. I was sliding around a bookshop the other day and spotted some really trashy-looking military sf novel showing some guy in a uniform marching down a line of similarly attired figures with a - get this - cat balanced on one shoulder. It's an image which sums up the bizarre cosiness of a certain type of predominantly right-wing sf. The kind of thing you don’t want people to notice when you’re arguing in favour of literary values within the genre.

The reason I bring this up is a conversation I had with my editor at the 2003 Eastercon in Hinckley. We were talking about other books I'd like to do. Part of the conversation went something like this:

Editor: Now, Gary, we'd like you to write some science fiction for us.
Gary: Nods emphatically.
Editor: Now, you're not going to write any books about magic cats, are you?
Gary: Shakes head emphatically.

Ever since, despite what I said above, I've been trying to figure out a way to sneak magic cats into a story without being tawdry and without diverging into fantasy. In a way that wouldn't annoy, say, highly regarded genre editors. Here’s how I figured out I could do it.

In the movie True Romance - written by Quentin Tarantino - the hero frequently gains advice from a figure whose face always remains in shadow: it is clearly intended to be Elvis, in the hero's imagination. Garth Ennis, clearly gaining inspiration from this, has the hero of his DC comic Preacher similarly seeking advice from a carefully shadowy John Wayne in classic Searchers mode. Jon Courtenay Grimwood’s Pashazade books feature a fox-like character who converses with the hero, who may or may not be the product of technology implanted with the hero’s skull. It’s standard mentor stuff. Also a nice way of drawing out what’s otherwise an entirely internal and therefore not so involving dialogue and making it feel richer.

I’m still working out the plot details of The Fracture and Leviathan’s Fall at the same time as working on a couple of short stories. As far as The Fracture is concerned, what I’m looking at is introducing a mentor-type figure who appears to the hero, in the hero’s mind, as the Cheshire Cat from Alice in Wonderland. Why the Cheshire Cat? Because the communication begins when the hero is very young indeed, but not so young as to be unfamiliar with the book. When he gets older, the hero has to figure out who – or what – has been occasionally interrogating or even aiding him, in some remote fashion, throughout his developing years.

The Cheshire Cat is, of course, a magic cat. But in this case, it exists as a useful metaphor for Something to communicate with a young child. Meaning, of course, it’s not really a magic cat. But close enough, I think, for me to feel like I’ve risen to the challenge without descending into terminal cheesiness.

Put it this way: say, hypothetically speaking, someone wants to make a science fiction movie. Someone else makes a sneering 'unicorn and spaceships' remark about sf. Film-maker rises to challenge, inserting dream-unicorn into otherwise hard-boiled narrative, as well as using much more metaphorical unicorn in the form of an origami sculpture. The film is, of course, Bladerunner, and it's surprisingly easy to forget that, yes, it has unicorns in it.

Of course, this isn't how Ridley Scott went about creating that part of the narrative, but you see what I'm driving at.


One of the authors I find perpetually inspiring is Rudy Rucker, not just because I enjoy many of his books, particularly the later ones (Spaceland, Saucer Wisdom), but because he makes freely available over the net his complete working notes for each book. It's an inspiration regardless of whether or not you've never written a book or you've already done a couple. If you want an idea of what goes on inside an author's head - what he has in terms of raw material to create a novel - Rucker's your man. He's got a new book out called Zek and the Elixir, and the complete notes are available here. If you're thinking about writing your first novel, this is a good thing to read.

If you haven't read Rucker before, I highly recommend Saucer Wisdom, which was deliberately designed to ape the style of 'ufo confessionals'. Style-wise, Rucker is a beatnik. There's no other word I can find to describe it and I'm not even sure what I mean, so take my word for it.

I read my new short story out to MJ and Eryn (whom I rent a room to) this evening and they listened in rapt silence, which is a good thing. Still needs a little work, though. Plus, the idea is such a good one I'm completely convinced someone must have used it before in just the same way.
So I dug up the beginning a story I started probably ... five years ago? And had a bash at finishing it. It's been an interesting process, in two ways: one, it's been a good couple of years since I even thought about writing a short story. And two: since I've written a couple of books since then, I find I have a great deal more discipline when it comes to writing in the short form. The story needs a little fleshing out, and a bit of period detail, given that it's set in the WW1 trenches. If this story comes out okay, I might well dig out some other old stuff and see if I can revamp it a bit. As well as write some new stuff.

One thing that amazed me last weekend, outside of the convention in Blackpool, was the news that David Pringle had decided to quit editing Interzone. I bought Interzone fairly religiously for the first several years of its existence, not so much of a commitment as that might sound given that it was quarterly for a good while. Now that Andy Cox of the Third Alternative is taking over, I'll be interested - very interested - to see what he does with it.

When I stopped buying Interzone, it wasn't so much down to a dissatisfaction with the magazine - the magazine was fine - as a falling interest on my part in reading short fiction. I haven't bought a copy of Asimov's or any such for several years. I've bought the occasional Dozois' Year's Best since then, but that's about it. I can't say why I lost an interest in reading short fiction, since I'm sure there's scads of really good stuff out there: all I know is that I found myself buying magazines where I knew I was never going to read the stories.

Ellen Datlow's Sci Fiction site, however, has brought me back a little. I read one of Lucius Shepard's 'Hobo' stories there and thought it was tremendous. I'm also going to make an effort to read 'The Empire of Ice Cream', by Jeff Ford, also on the same site, since - and I hadn't realised this - the story was not only nominated for the Nebula Awards, but also won. And also because myself and the other Glasgow writers met Jeff at Blackpool last weekend.

Actually, I'm fibbing, although I only just realised it. There was one science fiction magazine of consistently high quality I did buy every issue of, although its appearance has become sporadic to the point of assumed discontinuiation: Scotland's own Spectrum SF. If you can find back issues, I strongly urge you to do so, particularly since it contains the serialised short novel 'Atrocity Archives' by Charles Stross.

Since I'm intending to write and hopefully sell some short stories, it makes sense I really should actually buy some of the current magazines and see what's going on. Probably I'll buy the Andy Cox Interzone, since it feels like a new beginning, and take it from there.

Since I sent 'Against Gravity' off, I've been catching up on my reading. I bought a shitload of books off Amazon, and a couple at the convention (Convention dealer's rooms aren't what they used to be, and it's reasonable to assume the success of online booksellng may have something to do with this). I just finished Cory Doctorow's 'Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom', which is good fun without necessarily being tremendous. If I had to make a point of comparison, I'd say... Rudy Rucker. With a hint of Bruce Sterling-style social engineering. Also picked up Michael Chabon's 'Wonder Boys', admittedly because I really enjoyed the movie; what else? Uh ... 'Solitaire' by Kelley Eskridge because I heard good things about it - 'Stone Junction' by Jim Dodge because it sounded sort of interesting ... and some other stuff. Though I'll also strongly recommend you to read 'The Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time', about a teenager with Asperger's, trying to solve a dog-murder in the style of his hero Sherlock Holmes.

Okay, enough wittering about what I read on my holidays. Later.


If you write and you have your first book coming out, you can be expected to spend some time thinking about just what you’re going to do when it finally hits the shelves. What can you do to promote it, to make people aware of it?

The rules aren’t the same for all writers. Some already have a degree of profile – perhaps they’ve sold several short stories to the professional markets, or they’re well known for some other reason. But most of the time when you have a first book coming out, your name is unfamiliar to the reading public at large. The question that’s been floating around in my head for a while is, what can I do to promote Angel Stations when it comes out? Or is the effort really necessary?

When his first novel Shadowkings came out, Mike Cobley – another Glasgow writer – arranged a book launch at the local Waterstones. A lot of friends and family turned out, a couple dozen copies of the book were sold on the spot, and everybody had a pretty good time. He’d had several short stories published in the professional market over a period of several years. But with my own publication date fast approaching, I couldn’t help but wonder how much difference this really makes. At Eastercon last weekend, I asked another author with a couple of books under her belt what she did to mark the occasion when her first novel came out. Well … she had a packet of peanuts and half a pint of lager, apparently: they launched it at an Eastercon some years back and nothing else really seemed necessary.

What about pre-signing copies of books available in local bookshops? Does it actually make a difference if you’re a new author? My niggling feeling on this was, no. If it does have any advantage, maybe it’s that the ‘signed by author’ sticker grabs the attention for just that extra fraction of a second: and there’s also a greater chance your signed copies will be displayed face-out on the shelves – not a bad thing. Still, I remain ambivalent. If you’ve got several books out and people want to put a face to the name, then it all makes sense. But at the start of your writing career …?

So what can you do if you’re relatively low-profile and you want to make your book stand out just that little bit more from the rest? There are ways. One – and probably the best – is try and sell a couple of short stories to the pro magazines, and hope they come out within a couple of months of your book. Easier said than done, sure, but it’ll get attention. So I’ve been thinking about finishing off some short stories I’ve had lying unfinished on my hard disk for a while. Another approach I heard was running off some posters of the cover of your book and persuading at least some local shops to stick them up. It sells copies and the bookshop makes money. In the meantime, I’m thinking about what to do come September 3rd, and the release of the book.

Eastercon turned out to be a lot better than I’d expected, although the venue – the Winter Gardens – was terrible. Blackpool achieved the amazing feat of making even the worst parts of Glasgow, by contrast, look quite nice. And if the seafront is anything to go by – Jimmy Cricket and Frank Carson’s All-Star Show – Blackpool is where entertainment goes to die.

Although the actual event didn’t turn out to be quite what I hoped for, as a social event it went very well indeed. For me the surprise turn-out was William King, once a member of the Glasgow Science Fiction Writer’s Circle in the late Eighties and early Nineties: he went to live in Prague about the same time I joined the group, and he’s been writing for Games Workshop ever since. It was also nice to see Miller Lau again, after meeting her for the first time at last year’s con in Hinckley.

Who else did I run into? Mark Roberts, Jeff Vandermeer, Tony Ballantyne, Richard Morgan and Liz Williams spring to mind. Looks like quite a few reviewers have got their hands on advance review copies of Angel Stations, too.

I haven’t been doing a great deal since I sent Against Gravity off to my agent. I’m still working on the outlines for two separate novels I want to write. I learned the hard way to plan everything as much as I could beforehand. ‘The Fracture’ is currently the front runner for getting written first. The plot feels fairly strong, and it’s beginning to occupy more and more of my attention. ‘Leviathan’s Fall’ is still in there, however. The thing is, ‘’Fall’ has strong themes, but not much (yet) in the way of a plot. ‘The Fracture’, on the other hand, has a solid plot, but no great depth thematically. That’s okay, since you can figure out what the book’s ‘about’ while you’re actually writing it. But again, this is all in relation to my current obsession with knowing completely and absolutely what I’m going to be writing before I sit down to write it.


So I'm sitting here with the printed-out manuscript of Against Gravity sitting on the coffee table next to my foot, done and ready for my agent, the complete sixth draft. I ran it off one of the big photocopiers at work and only realised it hadn't printed the page numbers when I was halfway home. Arse.

Next weekend I'm at the Eastercon down in Blackpool, along with several members and people-associated-with the writer's circle. I may blog from there, I may not. In the meantime, I'm keeping my eyes out for reviews of Angel Stations. So far, I've seen it in 'books received' listings, but nothing else so far.