As well as seeing a story published by Nature, yesterday also delivered my 1000th rejection for a short story submission. I started this game in February 1997, but I didn't receive my first acceptance until five years later, almost to the day. That was from a fondly remembered British magazine called Scheherazade. Since then I've received another 150 acceptances, mostly for reprints. To date, 45 of my stories have seen publication, with another one pending. My first rejection (personal!) came from Interzone, my 1000th from Cossmass Infinities (form).
This was a year when external factors meant that I didn't get a lot done on the writing front. First and foremost, I got married! So, what with the planning, the doing, and the honeymoon..., well I reckon it's a pretty good excuse, although not one I can re-use next year. Hopefully, I can reconnect with my writing mojo and get back in the groove.
I did undertake one major project before the wedding preparations shut down my writing activities, which was to complete a first draft of the second book in my proposed 'Survival Strategies' series. I had about a third of it written already – material excised from the first book – and I was pleased to find that writing the remainder was relatively straightforward. However, I was much less pleased with the quality when I read it a few months later. To be frank, it stank, which was not how I felt about the first book. As things stand, I can't see me revisiting the series. I can't completely rule out a change of heart on that; but given various publishers' disinterest in the first book and my disenchantment with the second, it seems unlikely that I'll ever feel motivated to fix the huge problems I found.
I've continued to market my unsold and previously published stories this year. While I sold quite a few reprints, only one story found a first home. I look forward to seeing Dreamtime – which I read at a Virtual Futures Near-Future Fictions evening in 2018 – in Orchid Lantern's Vast anthology next year.
Talking of Virtual Futures, this year I gave readings of two of my unpublished stories at their Near-Future Fictions events: On This Day at Autonomous Agents, which I co-curated with Stephen Oram, and My iBed and Me at Boundless Bodies. I've had a great time working with the folk at Virtual Futures over the last three years and hope to do so again at some point.
A rather bizarre consequence of co-curating a Virtual Futures event was to be named as co-director on a short film that was a finalist for this year's Bio-Fiction festival. In fact, the glory belonged to Andrew Wallace, since he wrote and performed (superbly, I might add) his story The Minus Four Sequence at the aforementioned Autonomous Agents event. I co-selected the story for that event and sat in the audience, completely agog, while Andrew performed it without a script. Does that count as co-direction? Not in my book! Anyway, far more importantly, the short-listing will surely have boosted Andrew's fast-rising profile – and deservedly so.
Reprints of my stories appeared in (or at) Flash in a Flash, Omicron Theory (Ecuador), Reaktor (Estonia), The New Accelerator, Itty Bitty Writing Space, Little Blue Marble, First Contact, Sins and Other Worlds, and Virtual Futures: Near-Future Fictions vol. 1. Also, the Centropic Oracle produced a podcast of One Is One. But without question, this year's biggest pleasure was to see my flash-length piece I Think We Need to Hear That Again published in the A Punk Rock Future anthology from Zsenon Publishing. I recommend the entire book to you; it contains many excellent stories.
Somewhat tangential to my writing but highly relevant thematically: 2019 was the year I appeared on television for the first and doubtless only time! Anyone who has read my Moondust Memories collection will realise that I am a child of the Apollo era. Yes, I am old enough to have watched the first moon-landing, the 50th anniversary of which we celebrated in July. What some of you may not know is that, back in 1995, I helped to locate and return some clips from the BBC's live broadcasts of the Apollo 11 mission, which were missing from the its archive. In June of this year, BBC One's The One Show programme showed a mini-documentary in which I and others recounted the history of the broadcast and its rediscovery. It was great fun to be involved with the project. Sadly, the programme is no longer available to watch online.
As for 2020, well I do have some writing projects on the go. As ever, we shall see what comes of them.
On first read, the sixteen mostly brief pieces collected in Alan Price’s The Illiterate Ghost seem to cast only passing glances towards one. Yet on re-reading, their aggregate effect is one of a sustained gaze that seems askew but insightful nonetheless. These stories penetrate.
This is slipstream fiction, or interstitial if you prefer, where the countervailing forces of fantasy and mundanity quiver in an unstable equilibrium. Whether cast as formal experiments, as in Index to the 1896/1907 films of George Méliès, or as a more traditionally plotted story, such as Okura’s Tree, William’s Bridge—which brilliantly demonstrates how mutual sexual obsession can transform, through loss, into something much more lasting—Price’s fiction cleverly illuminates the weirdness of our lives.
You can order this chapbook from Eibonvale Press.
My mind is a "what if?" generator. I write in order to answer that question, or more usually a pair of them. Answering one "what if?" generally only gives me an idea for a vignette or a tediously linear tale. But if two of them collide then I'm usually on to something.
My published story "First and Third" is a case in point. While holidaying in the Tucson area of Arizona some years ago, I was fascinated to see roadside billboards displaying memorials to the recently deceased. What if, I wondered, a driver saw an animated CGI version of their much-missed loved one during their journey? How would they feel?
But that's not yet a story. It could be, but it needs something more.
Another of my notebook's questions to myself went along the lines of "What if the digital afterlife operated as pay-as-you-go service?"
So now my character's deceased wife is begging him for money, from a billboard. And just for fun, the narrator is riding a nuclear-powered Harley Davidson on Mars. Now that was a story I needed to write.
The result was First and Third, which appeared in Postscripts 26/27 "Unfit for Eden" (2012).
If you'd like to read First and Third you can find it in my Moondust Memories collection, which is available from Amazon, Smashwords, iBooks, etc.
Why do I write?
Because every now and then two "what ifs" collide.
(First published at The Thinkerbeat Reader, 1 November 2019)
With one notable exception, this last year felt like more of the same. I take that to mean it's time to think even more about the future than I usually would at this time of year.
As has been the norm for the last several years I received quite a lot of acceptances for my short stories, albeit mostly for reprints. Needless to say, every acceptance is very welcome. The highlight for me was receiving one from the editors of the A Punk Rock Future anthology for a flash-length story. I wasn't a punk back in the day (late 1970s!) but I grew up during that era and listened to a lot of the music, so that acceptance meant a lot to me. I even bought my first electric guitar on the strength of it. I also received an acceptance from an invitation-only anthology for another music-themed story–my first ever invitation for an original piece of fiction, in fact!–but the anthology has not been officially announced yet, so I'll just have to keep my fingers crossed that it goes ahead. Another acceptance came from a promising-looking new online publication called Electric Athenaeum, but I was disappointed by how few readers there seemed to be for what I felt was a timely story about humanity's response to Global Warming, the onset of the Singularity and the lure of space exploration. Sadly, 'Good to Go' sank almost without a trace, although it is still online at the time of writing. My other acceptance for a new story came from Speculative 66, which published my nano-fic story 'The Working Week'. On the reprint front, 'Slices of Life' appeared in New Orbit Magazine, 'Family Tree' in She Blended Me With Science and Issues of Tomorrow (both anthologies), 'Someone Else's Problem' in Odd Tales of Wonder magazine, and 'One Is One' at Kasma SF. I gave a reading of my unsold story 'Dreamtime' at one of Virtual Futures' Near-Future Fictions events and the Flash Fiction Podcast recorded a version of the second of my 'Reeves' stories, 'Warbling Their Way to War'.
During 2018, I sought to find a home for my 'Survival Strategies' novel. No luck so far, but Book 2 is now under way. I think it might easier to sell them as a completed series. At least I hope so!
Easily my most enjoyable writing-related activity was contributing to Virtual Futures Near-Future Fictions events. I co-curated their Post-Brain themed evening in May with the inestimable Stephen Oram. This was great fun. I enjoyed selecting the stories and working with authors to polish them, also compering part of the event. The readings were well-received, even mine! I enjoyed the experience so much that I volunteered to do it again this coming March, when the theme will be Autonomous Agents.
I also continued to read submissions for Albedo One magazine. Again, it's an activity I find enjoyable in its own right, but also worthwhile in that it helps highlight my own writing's strengths and weaknesses.
I've been writing (mainly) science fiction for a little over twenty years now. I've been lucky enough to enjoy fairly regular publication of my work since 2002. What struck me though, as I reviewed this year's successes, is that my earliest published stories often appeared in more prominent publications than those that have been accepted more recently. This is a disappointing trend to say the least. I do not seem to have moved forward at all, at least in terms of visibility in the science-fiction field, although I hope I'm a better writer than in 2002. In truth, the market has gotten tougher because there are more good authors submitting fiction than ever before, some of them drawing on a much more diverse range of backgrounds and experiences. I am firmly convinced that more diversity is a good thing. But my inability to step up to another level does make me wonder whether, going forward, I should continue in the same vein as I have up to now. So in 2019 I will take some time to consider my goals and how I approach them. I have a lot on my plate next year that has nothing to do with writing, so I intend to take a sabbatical from April to September (at least), which will hopefully result in the rebooting of my muse and either a new or reinvigorated direction for my work. In the meantime I will continue to market my portfolio of completed stories.
Wishing a very happy New Year to you all!
Electric Athenaeum, a New British SF webzine produced by staff at Anglia Ruskin University (UK), has just published my SF story, Good to Go, as part of Issue 01, which addresses the theme "For Future Generations". To read this story, please follow this link: http://electricathenaeum.com/2018/05/09/good-to-go/.
The following notes summarise some of my thoughts about this story, which were originally posted as a thread on Twitter. Please be aware that they contain some mild spoilers.
Good to Go was a lot of fun to write, partly because of the narrator's voice (it's definitely a "voice" piece) but also because there were so many science, technology and socio-political angles to explore. I hope I've done them justice in the 3000 words I used.
The story's concept came about from the argument I've had with myself (and others) over the decades about whether humanity should explore space or sort out our ailing planet first. Or can we do both? For context: I'm 58 and a child of the Apollo era.
Obviously, I wanted to be an astronaut or failing that then take a vacation on the Moon. Despite the best efforts of Space X and Bigelow Industries, that's unlikely to happen soon enough to suit me. Ah well! Or, as a famous writer once wrote: "So it goes".
But yes, we do need to sort out our planet. That cannot wait. I do think we can pursue some goals in space at the same time, but securing our home must have top priority. The characters in my story eventually understand that, but need a lot of prodding.
But having terraformed Earth back to a viable state doesn't mean we should then terraform other planets to suit humanity's needs. The story's narrator learns that we may have to change what it means to be human if we want to live on other worlds.
As for the mechanism that boosts humanity into orbit... You can blame Jaine Fenn for that! My good friend and fellow member of the One Step Beyond writers' group once wrote that every SF novel (or story) is improved by the presence of one. Discuss!
I wanted my narrator to be a project manager rather than a scientific genius or engineering wizard: someone who has to get other people to do her bidding, but who is (of course) stymied at every step along the way. Yes, I used to be a project manager....
Please visit the Electric Athenaeum website (http://electricathenaeum.com) where you will find many other fictional, factual and philosophical pieces on the theme of "For Future Generations".
British author Jule Owen has written an excellent new SF novel, The Kind, which is set on a future Earth where both the environment and human societies have been transformed by the effects of climate change, but also by technological advances. The book explores both the dystopian and utopian aspects of the scenario, while telling a compelling story. I strongly recommend you purchase and read it.
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.
My views on writing and other subjects of personal interest.