Book progress according to Me

The book is starting to move along nicely now I'm past the whole process of picking apart the last third, and the way to the end appears mostly clear. There's some ideas floating around in my head for the third book, but like I mentioned before, some of these might not necessarily tie into the shape of the final book, and I might even end up writing some short stories if the ideas don't make it into that third manuscript. 'Might'.

I remember travelling once to Edinburgh in the company of a flatmate to hear John Irving, author of The World According to Garp, do a reading and talk. This was about ten years ago. Being generally regarded as a 'literary' writer, he had to bear the burden of an audience that counted amongst its numbers a very few who had a somewhat flowery notion of the writing process.

A little old lady - well, she might have been only in her fifties or even younger, but she was dressed conservatively in a style that in my mind immediately suggested both 'little old lady' and the phenomenon known amongst the Glasgow writers as the '"nice cup of tea" writing circle' - stood and asked Irving if, when writing, he laughed or cried at his words as he wrote them, presumably from being overcome by the sheer emotive impact of his own language.

I winced. A stony-faced Irving replied, 'Miss, I neither laugh nor cry when I write. I'm too busy working.' Or at least, that's how I remember it.

Well, I just laughed at something I wrote, so clearly I'm now far too poncy to be allowed to live. Mind you, it was a torture scene, so maybe I should be worried for other reasons.


Book Streets & Bicycles

I bought a bicycle last night and went cycling with Emma through the streets of Taipei, which felt eerily like taking part in a massively multiplayer game of chicken with the cast of Death Race 2000. The bike is built by Giant, and given the sheer number of bicycles on the road here, it's no surprise the market in bikes is indeed gigantic, helped somewhat by the fact they're very cheap but apparently generally also very well made.

Unfortunately, the market in stolen bicycles is pretty huge too, so perhaps it's a good thing I didn't spend very much money on it. I have a decent enough u-lock for it, but that's more about me feeling better about having at least tried if and when it does get stolen. I was told it's a good idea to spray paint your bike to make it look older and less new than it is, but I rather suspect the bike thieves of Taiwan are pretty handy at respraying jobs themselves.

On the other hand, now I can get around and about without relying on the subway too much, and can at least feel like I'm trying to be healthy whenever I feel the need to take a break from the writing. After we picked up the new bike, we headed for the Chiang-kai-Shek Memorial Hall, which is no more than a couple of miles away, made even easier by the fact most of Taipei is as flat as a billiard table.

Today was a bit damp, so I jumped on the subway and headed for the Underground Book Street. More on that later.


Ideas for freebies

There's some photos I really ought to get around to putting up, including some of a Lantern Festival I visited with Emma a few days ago. It's sort of a static parade, with floats designed by kids from local schools. I note with considerable interest that the next free ebook Tor.com are putting up is Robert Charles Wilson's 'Spin', which won a couple of major awards in fairly recent history. It's a great book, very much worth signing up to the Tor website to get hold of.
It reminded me a little of Eon/Forge of God-period Greg Bear.

On the issue of freebies, I've been playing with the idea of sticking a couple of unsold short stories up here somewhere. I'm not exactly prolific when it comes to short stuff, to say the least, and sending the things out by the usual traditional means always seemed like a grind when I could be working on actual books I'm getting paid for. One piece I've got in mind came from a conversation about vampire stories at my writer's group in Glasgow, at which I stated the opinion there really wasn't anything new or original or even interesting that could be written in that genre, or at least anything likely to have any appeal to me (the last - okay, one of the few - pieces of vampire-type fiction I read and enjoyed was Lucius Shepard's The Golden, but it was Lucius Shepard, for chrissake. If he wrote jamjar labels I'd probably read them).

A week after I stated this opinion, I'd written a vampire story. Go figure. I sent it out a couple of places, got a couple of 'keep in touch' rejections, then couldn't be bothered sending it out any more. It needs maybe a tiny bit of fixing, but once that's done, it might turn up here. Mind you, I really ought to get round to putting up segments from my other books in those pages I set up. Colour me slow.

Other news; Stealing Light got picked up for publication in Germany. Not sure when. That was a while back actually, I think I just forgot to mention it.


Ebook readers: the verdict

Two interesting developments in the past several days: first, the news that Amazon is apparently intending to launch the Kindle in the UK later this year, and the developments at the American publisher Tor (owned by the same multinational that owns Pan Macmillan, who're behind the Tor UK imprint), where they're apparently heavily rejigging their website to carry a large amount of free content - including PDF giveaways of a few of their titles (if you go to the website you can sign up for these).

As you know, I got a bit obsessed with Ebook readers a while back and almost bought one. I did a lot of research, and a lot of online browsing. I was thinking seriously of putting down some cash. Then I did the one thing I hadn't done yet - which was to research what I could actually purchase to read on the thing. At which point I decided to save my money.

The ebook market is a mess of conflicting and proprietary formats. There's a lot of free material in the form of out-of-copyright material and a smattering of Creative Commons freebies, but I want more than that; I want easy access to new and current titles outside of the standard bestseller range - stuff you pay for. I want to be able to read current issues of magazines on E-ink. The only place where this seemed to have come together was in the Amazon Kindle model, where the company was apparently making a concerted attempt at getting as much stuff available for the Kindle as possible. Except, of course, you couldn't get hold of one of the damn things outside of the US.

But if it's coming out in the UK, it'd be much more of a winning proposition than anything else around. One of the reasons I'd thought of getting one was I knew I was going to be spending a fair bit of time in the Far East. Taipei has a lot - and I mean a lot - of bookshops, but unsurprisingly finding stuff in English is a difficult proposition. You can, however, order stuff at the bigger stores, and there's always Amazon and other e-tailers, except the postage costs are high. I figured finding stuff I wanted to read was going to be a difficult or expensive proposition.

Then I discovered Bongo's, a Western-style cafe and restaurant near the Shida Night Market, whose walls are lined with second-hand paperbacks - including a very large selection of sf, perhaps several hundred titles in all. Not only that, it's the kind of stuff I like to read; fairly recent titles, mainly, enough to keep me going for a good while. The collection is comprehensive and varied enough I suspect the vast majority of it comes from one person - either someone who doesn't like to keep books once he or she's read them, or someone who was leaving the country and didn't want to carry their collection with them and so sold it to the cafe. I've got a feeling I'm one of the few people who's buying those books - and that's fine, because it could keep me going for a long time.



Finally saw Cloverfield the other night and can't make up my mind what to think about it, except to say that it's evidence of how bizarre popular culture can be. It's like some strange artifact of our time, detailing our obsessions for the benefit of future anthropologists in ways I can't quite get my head around.

At first it seemed to me to be getting to the heart of what would've been one of the worst things about 9/11 - not knowing what the hell was going on, not knowing who might be responsible and not knowing - assuming you lived in NY or somewhere close by - if you were next. There's mystery in the initial carnage, and those online clips drew me in for that very reason. Except when you find out the cause is a CGi monster it becomes oddly less thrilling. It would have been a better movie, I think, if you never found out or barely caught a glimpse of what was responsible. One of the first rules of a scary movie is, it's what you don't see that's scary.

The creature - when you do see it - is simply too bizarre, too obviously a director's fever-dream brought to life, to take seriously. Or perhaps our apparent need to objectify the things we're scared of as large, rampaging monsters is easier for me to assimilate in the form of men in obvious rubber costumes stamping up and down on cardboard buildings while Japanese B-movie actors pretend to look worried.

One thing that occurred to me: Cloverfield is a movie that could be easily remixed. Keep the yuppies-in-peril scenes, substitute something else for the monster. The Stay-Puft man from Ghostbusters 2 (what would it really have been like with an enormous smiling man of dough rampaging through New York?); or a two-hundred foot tall Osama; or Martian War Machines (the properly Victorian variety, not Spielberg's barely disguised 'sleeper cell' variety)?


Outlines and book fairs

Lots of new outlining for the last third of the book. I could easily push the thing to way over the hundred and thirty thousand words I promised the publisher, but frankly I'd rather keep it within limits. One thing people said about Stealing Light that I appreciated was that it was low on padding and kept things moving quickly, and hopefully that's how things'll work out this time as well. Short, sharp, fast and streamlined. The manuscript has been static at just under 90k for the past couple of weeks, but there's been several thousand words of notes, ideas, outlining and story-mapping since then.

Went to the Taipei International Book Exhibition in an enormous conference hall last night - should have taken pictures, but I still forget sometimes to pick up the camera on my way out the door. It was busy, as any five-day event with an overall attendance of not far under half a million might be expected to be, and unsurprisingly most of what was there wasn't English language. But there was some stuff; along with publishers from Germany, Sweden, Korea and every point between. No sf as such - I'd briefly wondered about spotting some examples of the apparently healthy mainland Chinese science fiction market, momentarily forgetting the political tensions involved - so the nearest we got to my favourite form of fiction was: a large display of Japanese fiction from a Japanese publisher, and a slightly more modest stand for Games Workshop.


Devices from the future, inaccurate journalism and the story so far

I got a batch of mail sent to me from Scotland in a box, including a thumb-sized keycode device that generates a different code every sixty seconds that I need in order to be able to access one of my online bank accounts. It did inspire some 'futuristic if this was 1985' thoughts.

I blogged recently about the author Joan Brady, who purportedly claimed she was forced to give up writing 'serious' fiction by ill health and write a genre novel instead. I first came across this in an article on the matter by Mark Lawson, a British arts critic, published in the Guardian (Populist Prejudice). This was itself based on an interview with Brady taken from The Times. It turns out that this is, according to Brady herself in a follow-up interview, utter bollocks:

'Now the poor dope - or so the story went - was only capable of pulp fiction. The Times ran with the headline "Fumes made me go lowbrow, says writer". It even juxtaposed two extracts - one from Theory of War, the other ostensibly the opening paragraph of Bleedout (it is actually from later in the book) under the headline "Dumbing down" - as if to suggest the fumes had made Brady a literary thickie.
"The voice is exactly the same as in Theory of War," she counters crossly. "I haven't dumbed down. I never said it. That's the pure invention of the Times. They have decided that this effete literary woman has become so stupid that she can no longer write boring literary fiction and writes poorly selling thrillers instead. My mental faculties haven't deteriorated. And anyway, what an insult it would be to thriller writers to suggest that you need to be stupid to write them. It seems to me so irritating that you would denigrate a remarkable genre where much of the best writing is done. I'm a great admirer of writers like John Grisham and Scott Turow."'

It's at moments like these one comes to the conclusion The Times is no longer quite the force for accurate journalism it might once have been. That would be the polite conclusion.

On the new book - work on the actual manuscript has halted while I plot out the details of the last forty thousand words (of an expected total of one hundred and thirty thousand). I already knew roughly what was going to happen, but a couple of paragraphs of loose outline don't necessarily translate directly into juicy prose. Which means, as such things do, more detailed outlining: about three thousand words of it so far.



Bear with me while I get this here blog up and running under the new template. Been down in Tainan in south Taiwan for the past week or so, hence the blogging slump.



If you thought Bladerunner's constantly rainy, gritty atmosphere was a deliberate nod to the movie's noir antecedents , I suspect you might only be half right, given that throughout the winter months all it does in this part of the world is rain, rain and rain again, and also given that Ridley Scott was partly inspired by a visit to Hong Kong. I'm going to take a guess his visit wasn't during the summer.

Mind you, given the current weather conditions prevalent in the UK (wind, rain, gales, snow, sleet, extreme weather warnings) I'm not exactly complaining, merely observing; it rains here exactly as much as it does in the movie. Which reminds me; one of the ways the movie Children of Men tried to inform the audience that they were witnessing London in the near future was by putting tv screens on board all the buses. Bingo again: every single vehicle of public transport in Taiwan has LCD screens running ads and movie trailers. I'll take a stab these are familiar to anyone living within a few thousand kilometres of this island.

I'm getting close to sticking up a new design for the blog. You can see how it's looking by going to the Stealing Light extract page - be warned, the other two pages you can jump to from there are a long way from ready.