Living in a fantasy world

When I opened my curtains this morning onto a non-descript autumn day, I found a rainbow waiting outside my window. Traditionally my view is nothing spectacular: a road, and houses in all directions. If I’m really lucky I might get to hear bird song over the new developments’ machinery.

New houses on green land, new houses on flood plains, new roads, new shops. Irritating drivers, thoughtless pedestrians. I might as well live in a fantasy world.

No one listens just outside of Hull any more than they do inside it, I suspect. Yes, City of Culture 2017 lots of things happening, not all of it ‘Hull’.  Yes there’s that stigma again.  An understandable one for those of you from Fantasycon who happened to have survived the meal offerings at Scarborough’s Grand.

Hull? Isn’t that the place the PM just compared to Detroit? There’s a lot about Detroit I like, but I do worry for the city up the road when targets are placed on things so few get. A bit like Shoreditch, and planners designing roads for towns they’ve never been in.

Yet, despite all these negatives and changes – be they wanted or forced upon us – I’m surrounded by endless references to worlds that don’t exist and a culture that cannot be bought in or rebuilt at any price. Even though ‘outsiders’ are trying. Generations ago the town told a king to ‘do one’, a true rebel revolt waiting to be found in the history books. And that’s not the only one.

While the politics at a local level might belong in a dystopian novel along with the rotting boats along its beck, buildings born from fishing wealth inspire Georgian alternate history tales down streets where Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell would be quite at home.

I still expect to see Lord Poppy (Emma Newman's Split World Series) here one day.

I still expect to see Lord Poppy and his entourage (Emma Newman’s Split World Series) here one day. Image by Jon Parkes Photography

Inspiration for Lewis Carroll lies in wait at one church, while Tolkien’s touch is everywhere. Under-crofts and ancient churches treasure their secrets, next to narrow staithes hiding murderous lore of their own. The source of the town’s multicultural world building stares us in the face as we pop in to Maccy D. The essential component to any fantasy novel, the ‘barter town’ market trades under many faces. The nightlife would give Bladerunner a run for its money.

The future veers out across the Humber where its bridges are swallowed in paranormal mist.


Avoiding its miserable mud as the fog rolls on, the ghosts of Romans still search for their missing mosaic. Further along, over lost raised walkways, souls continue their pilgrimage to towering standing stones. Secret rooms buried in rubble uncover the forgotten meeting places of the elite and still standing pubs hold tight to the conspiracies plotted there. Pillar boxes maintain their guard for the airships while buildings draped in tattered canvas plead for a hero to rescue them. Shelters crumbling into an eroding coast are blinded by the hazey sun while pirates saunter back down the estuary.

HMS Bounty approaching Paull. Humber Bridge in background. Image by Karen Constantine. Source BBC.

Not actually a pirate. HMS Bounty approaching Paull with Humber Bridge in background. Image by Karen Constantine. Source BBC.

There’s so much to complain about these days, yet we take so much for granted. Like an unexpected rainbow filling a grey sky with colour.

So I’m quite happy living in my fantasy world, and I’m certainly grateful for the endless inspiration. Its global and diverse population are a great source for characters and conflict. That unsuspecting hero? Hull is one great big community that won’t turn its back on a friend.

Of course the rule for Hull is you don’t mock Hull unless you’ve lived it. Everyone Back To Ours, is the phrase for the coming year so you can’t say you haven’t been invited.

Snubbing it? You can probably do one. 😀

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Fabulous Anthology Book launch.

Five pm (GMT) on Saturday the 3rd of September  is when the launch party for Explorations: Through the Wormhole starts over on Facebook. Come and have a natter with…

Cover shows Wormhole with spacecraft approaching

Buy this anthology. RIGHT NOW!

Fourteen authors who have contributed to the anthology from Woodbridge Press, including myself. My story, When the Skies Open, is one of fourteen in this shared universe. Themes of the stories range, but When the Skies Open questions the future of an accidental interstellar colony. The fun kicks off at…

Three pm (EST) for those of you ‘across the pond’. The ebook format is the first version which will be available, but Explorations: Through the Wormhole will be available in paperback and audio versions as well, very soon. I have had the pleasure of interviewing…

Two of the other contributors, P. J Strebor and Thaddeus White over SFFWorld, and Jo Zebedee featured on House on The Borderland and SFFWorld. Of course it is…

One anthology, but is it just one universe? Well it was supposed to be just one anthology, yet a second is already in the works. So come and see. It will be a…

Blast. Off hand, I can’t think of anywhere I’d rather be.

 Gif features launch sequence from new Thunderbirds TV Show

Ok. Enough messing about, we’re all adults here, right? 

Explorations: Through the Wormhole is released today, it’s available from Amazon, and direct from the publisher, Woodbridge Press. While many anthologies share a common theme, the Explorations series share a common universe, and many of the stories touch upon the same history and may even share a common future. Join us on Facebook in the comfort of your own wifi. The authors will be dropping in throughout the launch for fun and prizes!

I’d tell you more but you know the book’s always better if you read it yourself.

 Banner shows starfield background and cover of Through The Wormhole. Image also features the list of authors included in the anthology in a silver-metallic effect font

 

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Events and Happenings

About this time of year most parents eye the calandar and count down the days until their children are forced back into a tight schedule of soul enriching learning.

Nope.

Instead I have several countdowns to keep me completely focused, calm and collected.

Saturday 27th  August 2016 will see HumberSFF’s first event, David Tallerman and BFS_Logo_red_SMALLDaniel Godfrey have somewhat bravely accepted the invitation to be the guest BSFA_Logo_2014authors for the night. An event that wouldn’t have happened without behind the scenes help. I’m supposed to be keeping things organised, I might even ask them a question or two. Time will tell.

Friday 2nd September 2016. The release of Explorations: Through the Wormhole happens. The anthology features my short story, When the Skies Open. Mark your Facebook Events now!  You don’t even have to leave the sofa to take part in this one, there’s freebies to win & the chance to talk to all the contributing authors throughout the day. I mean, how often do you get sit at the same digital table as this lot?ExplorationsThrough The Wormhole_WoodbridgePress

If you’re really lucky they might buy you a virtual drink when the bar opens too. Might and virtual being key important words there. More about that soonish.

(4th of September…back to school! – see I’m not counting down at all.)

23rd September sees the start of FantasyCon. Where I may or may not be chairing a fcon2016logo-300x66panel.

 

And then there’s the writing. By luck and careful planning the writing hasn’t been completely abandoned through the summer break. A breakthrough has been made!

 

 

 

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Do Your Research: A Guide to Avoiding Trouble.

I’m working with some amazingly dedicated small presses across on SFFWorld, and they sff_logo_smallare dedicated to getting the job right. Small but Mighty, a feature due to go live later this week, was set up to highlight that fact, and to give these hard working people a place to shout about the result of their investments.  I’ve long been a fan of the invaluable work the small press industry brings to the reader. But dear writers, be you aspiring, almost there, or still a little green around the gills there is something I really want to draw your attention to.
You have spent every spare moment you can scrounge to write your story. You’ve called in all the favours you can ever remember doing to make sure what you’ve written really is as good as your mum says it is.  You skipped the holidays, avoided the nights out. You edited it at 4am because it wasn’t really quite good enough yet. But now? Look at it. Its proper perfect init? It wants to be read by someone who’ll write fan fiction about the lead character. Or something.
Your best mate’s cousin’s friend knows a guy who does something with books. It returns with a lovely, shiny contract.

Really? I wouldn’t buy a car, computer, phone, pet….ANYTHING this way, so why would I trust word of mouth to find a home for a story I’d spent hours and months writing?

Nope. Don’t do it. All those hours you bled over your words to toss the finished work at the first whisper of something? Seems a bit silly – like firing a gun in a spaceship silly.

I mean. I should know a bit about contracts (I don’t, despite marrying a lawyer) and expectations of the industry (also only from one side). I do know about how to make something look better than it is. I know how to use words to influence, I even get paid to do it from time to time. I know how to gild that lily. I don’t like doing it. I do like helping people, but I learned the hard way not to make promises I can’t deliver on. It’s not a nice life lesson.

It’s easy to confuse a successful something-or-other with a one man band preying on the gullible. And writers are very easy targets. I know I am!  I have fallen for the nice guy routine in the past.

Do your best to avoid the misery of dodgy presses, malicious contracts, agents that take the mickey, and loss of earnings by doing a little bit of research. It’s ok, this is just as important as the word count and the synopsis:

  1. Two years to make or break. It takes at least this amount of time to learn the ropes of any business, for investments to show any sign of return, and reputations to be more than good intentions. If your agent or publisher is new you’re risking a lot more than just your story.
  2. Check reviews of other books from the publisher. Are the reviews on Amazon complaining about typesetting? Is the Good Reads account peppered with structured reviews about well-rounded characters, pacy plots and vague about the actual personal connection to the story? A bought and paid for review tends to be ambiguo s. If itncould have been written about any story, be suspicious.
  3. Writer Beware. Check it. Is the planned future publisher or agent listed here? Yes? Is it worth the risk?  Get on the mailing list.
  4. Preditors and Editors. Another good ‘go-to’ while you’re there read this too.
  5. Absolute Write has a thread dedicated to highlighting publishers and agents who aren’t getting it right. Decide for yourself if the dream is worth the risk. There are other sites out there which provide similar lists.
  6. If you must part with money to see your name in print, please, please, please self-publish. You’ll have far more control over what goes out there, and the only person you’ll be contracted to is yourself.
  7. Reading charge? Wait…they want to make money from you before they read anything? Money flows to the writer. Always. Forever. See point 6.
  8. Editing Fee? Money flows to the writer. Always. Forever. See point 6.
  9. Promotion Charge. You did see point 7 and 8 right? Yes, the internet is a scary place, and no, an SEO package won’t save you from it. An advert on an obscure site won’t either.  Not even being ranked 1 on a Google search will do that.

These tips are for the ones who want to do more than kick the tyres.

  1. Get out there. Conventions and writer days are a good starting point to find those publishers who are investing in their portfolio of authors. It is so much harder to pretend a business has 100 employees and that “Everything’s going swimmingly” in a face to face context. Also, hanging out with other writers and authors is good for the soul.
  2. Web-check. If the publishing business is registered in the UK, the website must display the Company Information i.e. the business name, place of registration, registered number, registered office address. It should also let you know if it’s a member of any associations. Sole traders should be displaying the address of their main place of business.
  3. They sound familiar, Whois that? Run a whois on the domain name. Businesses want to be found, and generally the domain is registered to the place of business. It should match the one on their website. ANYONE can own a domain, website and therefore, anyone can reinvent a troubled publication. While data can be held private, it can cost more to do so. A step some skip to save money.
  4. Companies House. Check out the business history. A business in trouble won’t hand in very good accounts. An individual with a very good accountant can make things look better than they are. There are loopholes that allow one firm to buy out a failing one. And the same person can be involved, or related to the person from the previous one. It’s a tried and tested way of avoiding a bad rep, shedding a name and starting fresh. There’s nothing wrong with starting over if lessons have been learned so… back to square 1 they go. Right?

So far we haven’t spent anything on researching but:

  1. Got a contract, but not an agent? Get a lawyer. Freelancers don’t charge the earth for a check, and there are plenty of legitimate freelance sites set up for you to find one. OR become a member of one of the many writing associations that include contract vetting as part of their membership. Society of Authors for example. The biggest advantage of joining such an association is that should something go wrong, they’ll fight in your corner to help make it right.

 

If all that doesn’t help, grab a cuppa and have a look at a professionally drawn up author contract. This is in the public domain, available to download by ANY publisher wanting to use it, it’s legally binding when signed. Look what rights you’d be signing over.  Fancy your book being a TV Show? Will you see any money from it? Hope you don’t mind them using your name in any form of promotion (Good or bad) without your consent. There are plenty other examples on that site, fortunately they aren’t actually using that contract for anything other than teaching their students.

All this might have made your brain hurt, I know. Don’t take my word for it, figure out what press is best for you, based on your choices. It all gets in the way of seeing your words in  print. I get that.  This book is your baby, this dream is your precious future, don’t just kick it out the door and hope.  Do as much as you can to make the right choice for you and your work. Do your research!

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What’s in a Book Launch?

When I’m working on my own writing I find it difficult to read within my preferred genre. For me one of the biggest advantages of SFF is, while there’s a good dose of imagination and future thought in it, the genre still has a healthy dose of day to day life. People still have relationships, crimes are still committed, mysteries still happen, so I’m able to read other stuff too.

On the search for something outside Fantasy and Science Fiction I pottered across town to catch Nick Quantrill launching his latest crime novel, The Dead Can’t Talk. It wasn’t so much as it being a local author which drew me to the novel, more that one of Hull’s most iconical buildings featured in it. The Lord Line Building not only means something to the thousands of people involved in the fishing and shipping industries, but just like the Humber Bridge, a child knows the landmark. Everyone knows they’re home when they pass Lord Line just off the A63. The people of Hull have adopted it as their own.

An Event to Remember.

Nick gave his book a proper send off into the big wide world, yes the expected gathering of chairs were there, and right comfy ones they were too. More were brought in to accommodate the crowd. York band, Bull brought the music. Helen Cadbury prompted questions relevant to the genre they both share. Much like Hull, the launch blended all the things Hull folk hold dear, friendship and fun, to create a great festival feel.

For a book.

Not too many days later. In the university library I attended a more composed launch of Daphne Glazer’s The Hendersons. A quite room, the white walls prepared for the next art display. Tea and coffee as well as finger foods awaited the guests, perfect for a composed book rich in characterisation. While I knew nothing of the Sheffield locale nor its history in which her book was set, it still transported listeners from the modern austere surrounds. Elegance and the unique mix of art and books found in Hull University’s Brymor Library merged with Daphne’s ability to inspire and enthuse. Her audience was entirely different from Nick’s, but just as engaged and curious about the novel, the author’s writing processes and inspirations. An extravagant launch and minimum expense in a city known for its grit, but I’m still waiting for the butler to offer Ferrero Roche to everyone.

Is It Worth All That Hassle?

Both launches saw book sales, of course. That’s the point of it, isn’t it? Marketing?

Or.  Is it a celebration of work, hours of effort and editing, wrangling with submission processes and book cover choices? Why shouldn’t it be a party that reflects the author’s individuality as much as the product?

Alcohol often flows at these events, but both authors were keeping a clear head – for the readings at least. Slurring your paragraphs doesn’t sound all that professional after all! Neither launch appeared to take the authors outside their comfort zones. I believe it added to the atmosphere, which in turn made their events successful. The authors enjoyed the experience on the whole.

Going Beyond The Fear.

Through the fear of no one turning up or the nightmare of standing in front of lots of people book launches are often a side thought or organised because of expectation. It might require a little bit of money too. Generally speaking book launches involve people staring at a writer, posing questions the author might not want to answer, as well as the author reading from the book in question. For those reasons many authors preferring a quiet life dislike promotion and the public process. Something I do understand.

Seeing readers gathered to support you as an author however can be a huge encouragement. Online book launches offer a shield from some of face to face engagement, but for me I’m more likely to remember a commitment to attend in person.

Being Different Isn’t A Bad Thing.

If anything, the last few weeks have shown me that a book launch is no different than a story. An author’s talent and creativity can be found in the pages just as much as it can in a launch.

Like a story, a book launch can be anything you want it to be. By being different in your approach a book can stand out from the crowd and last in a reader’s memory.

It’s not a wedding, there’s no need go beyond your budget. A little bit of planning can win you a fan or convert an undecided reader. It will give you a celebration you deserve as opposed to many sleepless nights.

 

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