I'm pleased to report that this year has been a particularly productive one. If we wind back to just before its start, December 2016 saw me commence a sustained phase of writing new short fiction – everything from micro-stories to novella length. Most of these have yet to be finalised let alone published, but I have a bank of stories to work on during 2018 and beyond. I took two of these pieces to the Milford SF Writers' Conference in September (my fifth since 2004). Both were very well received. The quality of fiction my fellow attendees brought to this year's event was breathtaking. The critiquing process was arduous, as always, but I spent a highly enjoyable week in soggy Snowdonia and made several new friends.
Since Milford I have written another new story, which is in response to an invitation, but my primary focus has been on finalising my first SF novel, which has been a work-in-progress for a very long time. This book, which is intended to be the first in the series, is finally ready to market. Yay!
All in all, 2017 saw a pleasing haul of acceptances and published stories. One acceptance left over from last year was The Last Moonshot. A Scottish SF magazine, Shoreline of Infinity, published that one in September. This is an excellent magazine, which I urge you all to support. I have also seen two micro-fiction stories published at Speculative 66 and another at Fifty-Word Stories. The fourth of my flash-length Reeves stories, Delicious Served Cold, appeared at Space Squid. I compiled it and its first predecessors, also a newly-written capstone story, in Reeves Indeed! This ebook is available from all the major on-line stores, incuding Amazon. Talking of ebooks (and print-on-demand ones too), I sold my 1000th this year. That was a nice milestone to reach. However, my most pleasing publication of the year was to see my short SF story One Is One selected for Third Flatiron's Kurt Vonnegut tribute anthology, Cat's Breakfast. Vonnegut is one of my favourite authors, so this was a big thrillfor me. The story also appeared in Third Flatron's end-of-year Best-of ebook. I saw several other stories reprinted, including The English Dead in Quasar 3, which is my first story to be translated into Italian.
You can find lots of links to my free-to-read stories here.
Also of note for this year is that I gave my first-ever talk about my fiction to a local Writer's Group. The members of the Thurrock Writers' Circle were very attentive and kind to a rather nervous first-timer. I thoroughly enjoyed the experience and hope to do more of this sort of thing in the future!
I hope to have lots of interesting news to report in 2018. One event to look forward to is a Virtual Futures evening of near-future fiction readings on the theme of "Post-Brain" in May. I'm a co-curator!
Wishing you all a very merry Christmas and a happy New Year!
Most of my stories have come to be (sorry!) when two or more unrelated stimuli collide and interact. With Bee Futures it was more a case of a bunch of related stimuli stinging each other.
In the past I have conducted horizon-scanning studies for technology companies. Autonomous micro-drones were one of the many emerging technologies that caught my attention. Not surprisingly, the designs and prototypes drew inspiration from nature. Intriguingly, some research scientists were exploring whether insect-sized drones might replace natural insects for pollination tasks...
Then consider the ongoing catastrophic decline in bee colonies, which many scientists believe is caused by the use of potentially dangerous (to bees) agrochemicals...
Then consider the existing tensions between technology-driven and ethically-compliant modes of agriculture...
Then consider who would be the farmers in the future when so many present-day farmers are giving up, for one reason or another...
Then consider how corporate policies and consumer preferences can drive counter-productive behaviours...
That list comprises the set of factors and drivers that Bee Futures sprang from. The first version of this slice of absurdist SF – which I hoped would be somewhat in the John Sladek mode – took a single afternoon to write. My writers' group (One Step Beyond) demanded that I radically improve the ending. Hopefully I succeeded.
Bee Futures was published in Nature Journal's 'Futures' series in 2013. it It has since been reprinted by The Singularity magazine, also by Szortal (Polish translation) and Reaktor (Estonian translation), and podcast by Manawaker Studio. If you'd like to read it, it's free on the Nature Futures website, or you can find it in my Sons of the Earth ebook.
I received fifteen acceptances for my short fiction, twelve of which were for reprints. As in 2015, I took Deborah Walker's excellent advice and made sure that, whenever possible, my pre-sold stories were "out there" seeking out gainful employment.
Three stories accepted in 2015 saw publication this year: Brown Cat Blues in Plasma Frequency Magazine; Collapsing into Life in Cracked Eye; Insider Art in Abyss & Apex. Sadly, by the end of the year, both Cracked Eye and Plasma Frequency Magazine had folded. Although Cracked Eye is no longer on-line, you can still see Rachelle Meyer's stunning illustrations for Collapsing into Life, three of which are animated, here.
In what has definitely a good year for my micro-fiction, I saw my story POD People published in the debut issue of Speculative 66. This on-line journal publishes stories that contain exactly 66 words. Also, my story Peace on Earth received an Honorable Mention in the 200 CCs Christmas Contest. That's the first time any of my stories have placed in a contest!
English Language Reprints
My Nature Futures short-short Dark They Were, and Strange Inside appeared in the Unintended Consequences anthology from WolfSinger Publications.
Another Nature Futures short-short Bee Futures appeared in issue 3 of The Singularity magazine.
Foreign Language Reprints
Dark They Were, and Strange Inside was translated into Croatian and reprinted in Eridan magazine (please be aware that this link is to the PDF, which may download automatically).
Dark They Were, and Strange Inside was translated into Estonian and appeared in Reaktor magazine.
String-Driven Thing was translated into Polish and reprinted in Szortal.
Three cheers for my Nature Futures stories! Long may they find new homes.
February saw a wonderful podcast of my Mars-set SF story First and Third at StarShipSofa. This was recorded by Nikolle Doolin, who did a marvellous job.
Later in the year, C B Droege recorded a pair of my Nature Futures stories (again) for his Flash Fiction Podcast, again with highly entertaining results. If you have five minutes to spare, you could do much worse than listen to his readings of The Last Botnet and Bee Futures.
December saw two podcasts of my stories: Beam Me Up released Ron Huber's excellent reading of Stars in Her Eyes, while at the end of the month 600 Second Saga released Mariah Avix's equally fine rendition of String-Driven Thing.
The scare quotes are deliberate. I spent a lot of time working on the third draft of Survival Strategies this year. The feedback from my readers was mixed. I am still pondering how to proceed.
My most important ebook project this year was editing and producing One Step Beyond, a reprint anthology of short stories written by members of the titular writers' group, which has been in existence since 1998. One Step Beyond is published by Tower of Chaos Press and is raising money for English PEN, a charity that supports freedom of expression around the world. It is available from all the major ebook retailers.
This year I also produced my second collection of short stories, Sons of the Earth. This is currently available only as a Kindle ebook, although I do have plans to produce a paperback in 2017.
I thoroughly enjoyed attending Manunicon (aka Eastercon 2016) in Manchester. The four principal guests were either good friends of mine or authors of considerable interest to me, so I never lacked for programme items of interest to me. I also participated in my first ever discussion panel, on "Obscure British SF Television 1950s-1970s". Talk about typecasting! But we had great fun in the tiny but packed-out room where the panel took place. I think we all left with expanded to-buy lists.
I continued to serve as first reader for a small (but beautifully formed) speculative fiction magazine. I hope to continue in this role, as I love reading the work of other writers, which also provides acute insights into my own writing.
I acted as proof-reader and on-line editorial consultant to Richard Lewis while he wrestled with issue 2 of Thoughtforms (the band-approved magazine for fans of British Indie band Lush). The results of his hard work were deservedly acclaimed.
I will be attending Milford Writers' Conference in September. (Memo to self: must write some new stuff!)
I have several stories awaiting publication, including The Last Moonshot at Shoreline of Infinity.
As ever, please check my website's news page regularly for the latest news!
Sadly, two writer friends of mine died this year.
Like me, Sean Timarco Baggaley attended Liz Holliday's One Step Beyond workshop in 1998 and went on to become one of the founder members of the group of the same name. A big physical presence, a talented writer and something of a Renaissance Man, Sean had a delightfully quirky sense of humour that found expression in his (sadly unpublished) fiction.
Many of the same adjectives could be applied to Philip E Kaldon. Another big man, Dr Phil as he was generally known on-line had a splendid sense of humour, as well as being broadminded on a wide range of political and social issues. He, too, was a fine writer, but unlike Sean a lot of his output did see publication. The widespread outpouring of grief after Dr Phil died was a good a measure as one could ever need of just how much he was loved and admired.
Rest in peace my friends.
Wishing all my readers and visitors to this website a happy, productive and successful 2017.
For the last 18 months or so, I've been reading submissions for a longstanding but "small press" speculative fiction magazine. During that time, I've considered well over one hundred stories in the SF, fantasy and horror genres. I thought it might be interesting to share my experiences with my fellow writers, particularly those who like me receive many more rejections than they do acceptances.
First up, if you've not served as reader before, it's a post (ahem, unpaid) that's well worth considering. I've learned a lot about what works and what doesn't while evaluating the viability of a story in its submitted state, as opposed to a work-in-progress critiqued at a workshop or by a writers' group. Also, there's the principle of "giving something back to the community". We can't have too many good places to send our work.
What follows is a set of observations based on my experiences to date. Please take them for what they are: my experiences, which are not necessarily representative of the majority of submissions readers.
It ought to be obvious, but I'll restate it here, that a first (or second) reader's task is simply to pick out those stories that, in his or her view, the editor should seriously consider for publication. I forward maybe 15% of those I read. Most of those still get rejected by the editor.
If I send a form rejection, it's usually because one (or more) of the following reasons apply:
It's not a good idea to ask the first (or second) reader whether you can submit a rewrite. That is for the editor to decide.
Here are some tropes and techniques that I'd like to see less of in the submissions pile:
Comments are welcome either here or on my Facebook page. Please note that I won't be telling you which magazine I read for.
Hugo-nominated webzine Abyss & Apex published my short story Insider Art on April 1st. I was on holiday at the time so I'm only now getting round to blogging about this highly personal work.
Insider Art isn't personal in the sense that the lead character is based on me or anyone I know; she isn't. But I do know what it is like for someone to visit a loved one who has been in a persistently vegetative state for several years. But mostly it's the story's embedded themes that constitute the personal element, since they often appear in my work. So: Insider Art explores the challenges posed by creativity; ponders how people trapped by their circumstances strive to free themselves; and considers how technology might enable new but circumscribed forms of humanity to come into being. In that sense, it is probably one of my signature works. You can find other, often very different takes on these themes in stories like Slices of Life, Survival Strategies, Time to Play, A Walk in the Woods (and its sequel A Walk in the Rain), and others.
If you watched the final episode of the recent revival of The X-Files, you will have encountered the walking-versus-tennis communication protocol already. I felt that Chris Carter rather under-exploited the motif. I hope that Insider Art makes better use of it, particularly since reading about it in a science journal a few years ago inspired me to write the story in the first place.
I'm hugely grateful to my friends in the OSB writers' group and the Milford Conference 2013 attendees for helping me to knock this story into shape, also to Wendy S. Delmater for agreeing to publish it in her excellent 'zine. I hope you enjoy reading it.
I'm generally known (not well-known, but still) as a science fiction writer, but from time to time I do stray into other genres. In fact around 20% of my fiction fits elsewhere. My published work includes ghost stories, an eschatological fantasy, and other pieces that are plain unclassifiable. Collapsing Into Life is a case in point, but also a maverick in its own right. What is this story supposed to be? A case could be made for literary science fiction, but then again maybe it's a psychodrama featuring a delusional protagonist. As the story's author, I was never entirely sure, which in some ways was part of the fun of writing it. In any case, does its genre matter? After all, the story is the story, however I (or others) choose to classify it. But narrative ambiguity can make a finished piece difficult to market. Most editors prefer certainty, which is fair enough. So I count myself fortunate indeed that Cracked Eye took on Collapsing Into Life and assigned Rachelle Meyer to illustrate it. You can always tell the quality of a publication by the value that's added. Cracked Eye and Rachelle added loads of value to this story. The illustrations – some of them animated – are superb throughout, giving the story a graphic novel feel.
Collapsing Into Life was long in gestation, passing through several distinct versions over the years. It was based--very loosely--on the circumstances a close friend of mine found herself in way back when. To me, it felt like she was living in three places at once. No, she's not Melissa, but her situation did stimulate my thinking for this story, which went well and truly off-piste. And yes, we remain close friends to this day.
One of the aspects I enjoy most about the writing life is collaborating with other creative folk. Sometimes that collaboration is explicit, as when I'm kicking around ideas with my good friend Tony Hughes, who paints the covers for my ebooks. Other times, it is discovering how someone I don't know interprets my work. Podcasts are case in point. Last year, Paul Cole produced an atmospheric five-part serial from my Everest story 'The English Dead' for his Beam Me Up podcast. Today, the award-winning StarShipSofa has released issue 424, which contains Nikolle Doolin's wonderful rendition of my Mars-set SF story 'First and Third'. To hear Doolin's take on my characters was a mind-opening experience for me. I always had a view of how Masie (in particular) should sound–and Doolin has nailed it. Whereas Joe sounds a little different to what I had in mind, but actually a lot better. In truth, I reckon Doolin has created the definitive version of 'First and Third'–and I am hugely grateful to her for doing so.
(Now, if only I could find someone to publish the sequel to 'First and Third'... Any takers for 'Second and Seventh' out there in editor-land?)
It’s been a somewhat schizoid year on the writing front, as I’ve made relatively little progress in terms of producing new material or finishing works-in-progress, but enjoyed plenty of success on the publishing side of things.
My limited productivity was almost entirely due to a protracted property sale/purchase/move scenario. Nothing terrible happened, but I had a huge amount of tasks to keep me busy--and still do post-move.
I did manage to finalise one previously drafted story during 2015 and wrote four new ones, all very short and mostly targeted at contests, which I found a useful source of motivation. None of this year’s crop has sold yet, but I did place four older stories at good markets: Invisible Touch sold to Daily Science Fiction and was published earlier this month; Collapsing into Life will appear in Cracked Eye; Insider Art is in Abyss and Apex’s inventory; and Brown Cat Blues will appear in the New Year Day’s issue of the revived Plasma Frequency Magazine. That’s a very pleasing haul. PMF’s recovery after a successful Kickstarter campaign was one of the year’s more pleasing pieces of publishing news (IMO).
One highlight for me this year was seeing A Walk in the Woods (a reprint) and its sequel A Walk in the Rain published as a diptych in Breakout (aka Postscripts 34/35, from PS Publishing). Those stories are keeping very good company, judging by the anthology's table of contents.
On the subject of reprints: I saw my Nature Futures story Bee Futures appear in Szortal (Polish) and Reaktor (Estonian), while Szortal also reprinted Dark They Were, and Strange Inside, likewise originally in Nature. Bee Futures will also appear in new British SF magazine The Singularity in due course. Another new magazine, The New Accelerator, reprinted Survival Strategies. This year also saw a story of mine podcast for the first time, with Beam Me Up producing The English Dead in five highly atmospheric segments. Another of my stories, First and Third, is set to be podcast by the award-winning StarShipSofa in the near future. Other previously published stories appeared on pay-per-read sites such as QuarterReads, AnthologyBuilder and The40p. I only released one new ebook this year, which contains my novelette Family Tree. I have tentative plans to release another ebook collection of my published stories at some point, possibly next year.
Also in 2015, I prepared and submitted a novel sample to Hodderscape’s call for unagented submissions. I haven’t heard back yet, but I’m told that doesn’t signify anything. I also edited a reprint anthology of stories written by my friends in the One Step Beyond writers’ group. Our aim is to raise money for the English PEN charity. This ebook is complete except for some final checking and tweaking, so hopefully it will be released fairly early in the New Year.
As for 2016 projects, it’s really too early to say. But when I get some time, I’m sure my thoughts will turn in the appropriate direction!
Several of my writer-friends had great news to share this year, most notably Aliette de Bodard, whose Paris-set post-apocalypse fantasy The House of Shattered Wings was published to great acclaim, as was Al Robertson’s Crashing Heaven SF novel. Congratulations to both--and to everyone I know who had a successful year.
Wishing you all a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.
Sometimes, if you wait long enough, a dream can come true...
Forty years ago I bought a music cassette (remember those?) bearing the rather pompous title A Young Person's Guide to King Crimson. Up to that point nearly all my music purchases were in the progressive rock genre. I'd heard a few tracks from the band's 1969 debut album on Radio Caroline--and they certainly fitted that description. But the other tracks collected on 'Guide' were less easily classified. Some were angular, jazzy, dissonant; others were beautiful one moment and harrowing the next, as exemplified by the twelve minutes of musical alchemy that is Starless. Forty years on and that track remains my favourite piece of music, even though my tastes have long since diversified. I suspect that 'Guide' ultimately helped to point me in lots of different musical directions. Maybe that's why I still seek out new music.
At the time, my exploration of King Crimson's back catalogue occurred in the knowledge that the band had already split up, seemingly for good. Not only would there be no new music from them, but also I would never have the chance to see them play live. Luckily I was wrong on both counts. In the decades that followed new versions of King Crimson formed and subsequently fell apart, but none ever played Starless. I saw the Double Trio version twice during the mid-90s, and revelled in their live versions of Red and 21st Century Schizoid Man, but never once imagined that they'd play my favourite track. Wonderful though that line-up was, it lacked the requisite instrumentation and, more importantly, was focussing on playing new music. Fair enough. Some dreams don't pan out.
But King Crimsons come and go. In 2014 a new version emerged.
Last night, I went to see King Crimson play at The Hackney Empire in London. Their dazzling two-hour set, which featured tracks old and new, climaxed with the stage drenched in the deepest imaginable shade of crimson while the seven-piece band delivered a mesmerising rendition of Starless.
I'm not ashamed to say that I cried.
Sometimes the wait is worth it.
My views on writing and other subjects of personal interest.