I haven't had a great deal to say on the subject of Gordongate (An Edinburgh Waterstone's employee fired for making mildly disparaging remarks about his workplace in the context of an entry in his online diary), since everyone else got there long before me. Joe Gordon was in charge of the sf section of his bookshop, and was apparently extremely diligent both in promoting the genre to customers and via occasional interviews on local radio, where he was generally presented as a Waterstone's employee.

I have some considerable sympathy for Joe's dilemma, which has generated a thousand times more bad publicity for Waterstone's than they could possibly have anticipated. The general feeling is that at the very most he deserved a slap on the wrist, rather than being fired and escorted from the building, particularly given his considerable beyond-the-call-of-duty efforts for the company he gave eleven years of his life to. Much of that sympathy arises from my own short experience of working for the rival store Borders some years ago, when it opened an enormous multi-level store in the centre of Glasgow. Like Joe, I ran the sf section. Unlike Joe, I had no intention of sticking around for as much as a year, if I could avoid it, let alone eleven.

If I had any advice for Joe, it would be to look on the loss of his livelihood as having a distinctly silver lining: now he can hopefully get a job not only more suited to his talents, but also one that pays rather better than a bookseller might be expected to receive. Enthusiasm, I'm afraid, in the modern high-speed world of bookselling, is rarely appreciated. It smacks of dangerous individualism and the forming of personal opinions, traits clearly incompatible with the modern world of shareholders and profit maximisation.

Some of his experiences sound depressingly familiar, particularly his reference to an 'escape committee'. On the other hand, he did have the advantage of having a 'union rep' on hand during the meeting that led to his being fired. Unions, of course, are not allowed by Borders, a fact which remains to my mind both scandalous and disturbing.

Joe sounds like the kind of guy who is enthusiastic about the books he was employed to sell, and is filled with the commendable desire to share that enthusiasm. He is also, I suspect, intelligent and well-read enough to have opinions and be prepared to share them. These are not necessarily qualities to endear employers like Waterstones: although they would like to be seen to reflect the liberal/ intellectual qualities deemed desirable by their core customers, this doesn't mean they genuinely share those values beyond the point where such an appearance generates a substantial profit.

This dichotomy between what many companies make themselves appear to be, and what they actually are, only becomes clear when you're in the fortunate or unfortunate position of working for them. I decided to leave Borders, at least in part, because for all my engagement with the books I sold and the customers I sold them to, I might as well have been working in a supermarket, stacking tins of beans.

If you're thinking of getting a job in a place like Waterstone's or Borders, here's my advice: think of it as a temporary gig, unless you have serious managerial aspirations, in which case an enthusiasm for books is (I suspect) neither required nor even necessarily desirable. Otherwise, do it for the summer, or between jobs, and then get out and find something better. I left because I was literally going stir crazy. The hours were unbelievable, I could hardly stay awake even on my days off, and the longer I was there the more I spent my waking hours in a kind of numbed haze.

And if you still think working in a bookshop would be cool, then I agree wholeheartedly. But remember: Borders and Waterstone's aren't bookshops, they're supermarkets that happen to sell books. 'Real' bookshops, unfortunately, are becoming a thing of the past in many ways.

But then, what do I care about Borders or Waterstones? I don't buy my books there, I just browse them - then go straight to Amazon and get them sent to my front door.
From a piece of spam received this afternoon:

"a rest broadcasted elastic. where expansion drove me soon? awkwardly knowledge outdid this company beyond hate. we showed that last fold without sugar. obediently. a bent harbor save store, that underlet female, angry current. Gianni rived my able cough. you sowed Leroy when skywrote them Johanna! it forbore thin bear, who befell elegantly... toward memory sang harmony, flag struck onto your dust round female curve:"

Either it's an international conspiracy of technically-gifted Dadaists, or (if this were in fact a science fiction novel rather than real life) the first awkward baby-steps of something groping its way toward sentience via the internet.

Or maybe this is just what you get when you run the same Viagra advert through a dozen different flavours of language translation software.


Anyone who's seen the version of the cover for Against Gravity in the most recent issue of Starburst will note it looks nothing like the artwork you can see here. This is the correct version: the version in Starburst is something that was put aside some time ago, but still found its way out there nonetheless. The artwork here is by Steve Rawlings, who also did the cover for Angel Stations. Frankly, I think it looks terrific.

Against Gravity is coming out on July 15th this year, in trade paperback, and the paperback of Angel Stations should be out at the same time.


I've been busy working away on 'Wonderland' (might as well call it that for now) over the christmas period, and as a result haven't been posting here as often as I might have. So it goes. It's 'working' rather than 'writing' since the only way, I've found, I can figure out a plot for a book is to start writing the book and see where it goes. Usually I get bogged down somewhere between twenty thousand and forty thousand words, but I've learned to anticipate this.

I hit twenty-five thousand words a couple of days ago, and decided to take a step back and work out the exact details of the story I want to tell. Part of this means building an Excel spreadsheet (I've never done this before, but figured it would be worth a shot) detailing series of events over a period of several decades. This way, I can look at short snippets of events and personal histories arranged along a timeline, and work out where the story threads through it all. One thing I've already found this good for (and I only started building the spreadsheet earlier today), is pointing out glaring inconsistencies. In a couple of days, I should know where all the several characters were at different points between about 1945 and 1976. I've also set up a timeline for real-life events, such as the Korean War, the MKUltra program, major events in CIA history and anything else that looks like it might fit, since these things will all be entirely part of the environment for the characters.

... and how was your christmas? I spent Christmas Day at my mum's with MJ, New Year at Jim's in the West End, plus had Dave (who I used to work with years ago) visiting from Edinburgh on the Saturday. Finally, a night out at a chinese restaurant in Princes Square called Ming's (very highly recommended) with some of the writer's circle. Quite relaxed for once.

A book recommendation - I saw the movie of Confessions of a Dangerous Mind (the quite possibly almost entirely fictitious life of Chuck Barris, creator of the Gong Show, and covert CIA assassin, should you choose to believe him) some time ago, and finally got around to reading the book. Very good indeed - in fact, a lot better than I'd expected. Heck, he had me wondering ...