Save the dates: A guest at two conventions

Scotland has hosted the big science fiction and fantasy conventions including I believe a Worldcon.  However it did not have a (big) annual convention of its own.  Cymera which is relatively new tackles that.

And I’m going, to do a panel on ‘what makes us human’.   I’ll be on the Sunday 2.45 7th June with Adrian J Walker, an Australian author new to me and whose intriguing book I have ordered, naturally.

The whole programme and how to get tickets (weekend passes look good value) can be found in their website.

This is wonderful to be asked, an excuse to visit Edinburgh, and I’ll post more thoughts as I have them.

And of course, quite a big likelihood it won’t happen because of The Virus. Certainly events are being cancelled all over the country and in the US.

I am strongly tempted to do something online with Adrian if not.

I am also at Edgelit in Derby, a friendly convention which I enjoyed last year, 11-12th July.  Put in your diaries.  It’s top secret but be naughty and tell your friends.

Nothing makes you a real writer except writing, but this certainly good to be asked.

Since the invite I have been thinking often of the great Alistair Gray and his ringing statement, “Work as if you live in the early days of a better nation.” Words for England too.

Image result for work as if in the early days of a better nation

Stephen

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Our Child of the Stars on sale in US and Canada !!

Having won rave reviews in the UK, Our Child of the Stars hits the US and Canada on 3rd March. Available as hardback, the three e-book formats, and audiobook! (BTW if your local shop doesn’t stock it, they can order it.)

The LA Times loved it

“It’s 1969, the year of the moon landings, Woodstock and the ongoing Vietnam war. Against this backdrop, Gene and Molly Myers have been having a rough time since their child died some years before. [When] a meteor strikes their New England town… Molly is given the task of caring for the gravely ill survivor – an alien child called Cory.

Cory’s difference to others highlights the real messages that have been tenderly provided here – those of acceptance, warmth of human spirit along with parental love and sacrifice. It’s a wonderfully emotional, heart-warming journey of what it really means to be a parent and a reminder that at times it feels like society as a whole hasn’t really become any more accepting of those who are different since the 1960s.”

Edited for spoilers

UK praise here

Buying links here

IndieBound finds independent bookshops

Barnes and Noble HB

B+N Nook

Indigo Canada

Amazon

 

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One Year On: The joy of PLR

Wall of books in library
Library: Courtesy zaini izzuddin unsplash

One of the little joys of authorhood is seeing your book in a library, and thinking of people taking it out. It’s also a good retort for those of your friends too mean to buy it. ‘Go to the library.’

I’m a fan of libraries. As a kid, my parents showed me the local library and for years I walked five old books back and took five new books out each Saturday.  I was also tall for my age and allowed free range into the adult section rather too early.  I couldn’t tell you everything I read, the SF selection tended to be collections, and a lot of Andre Norton. Peter Dickinson’s weird fantasy about a UK with apartheid against green skinned Celts.  I’m not sure I remember much fantasy but there were some classics.  (Our school library was also rather good.)

To be a writer is to approve of reading, and to believe that  access to books is a good thing.  But also, authors need to eat.

So the PLR scheme (like a number across Europe) pays each author the princely sum of 9p every time one of their books is taken out.  What is more interesting is that it gives a rough idea of how many people borrowed your book – in the relevant period, around 500.

(I thought every book in every library was connected. In fact, they check a sample and scale up which makes sense.)

500 readers. And a little something in the bank next month. And yay for libraries.

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One Year On: Influences and cutting up frogs

A dear friend asked if the character who ‘disliked cutting up frogs at school’ was a reference to a reference to the biology lesson scene in ET.  That led to a long think about influences.

At one level, the answer is no.  I did not consciously use that phrase thinking of ET.  Molly is a nurse, not at all squeamish about the bloodier side of nursing.  Although, she likes her meat and fish not to remind her they came from living beings. For her, inflicting suffering is different. Molly subconsciously links the danger to her alien son Cory to cutting up frogs, in part because he reminds her a bit of one.  (Long limbed, hairless, loves the water…)

But there is a link.  With a deft touch, ET presents dissecting the frogs as cruel, and Cory is sometimes very confrontational about human cruelty in all its forms.  Cory is often seen as other, and as fair game, a means to an end.  I think the link was Cory’s appearance, not ET, but the subconscious is not straightforward.  It’s my view that ET confronts human frailty cruelty and power less than Our Child of the Stars does, but my friend’s question shows a counter-example.

Some references in Our Child of the Stars are deliberate, even knowing (‘Easter Eggs’).. Some I made and only later recognized the origins.  The Meteor for example I knew was a lift from Superman/ Smallville, although there are also major differences. And much of it swam into my head ready formed.

One of the most amusing things is the long list of influences, which are books and films I haven’t seen, or saw after the book was written.  After all, a helpless child turns out to have strange powers goes back to Hercules, if not before.

There is an increasing tendency to reduce a book to the author’s biography.  People do borrow from their lives and interests – there is a tapestry of these in my book – but often emotional truth rather than hard facts. And an author subjects it to the comic book transforming radiation of the imagination.

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One Year On: Is Our Child a Fantasy?

The British Fantasy Society just reviewed Our Child of the Stars warmly.  I wrote it in part as a love letter to science fiction, but also to fiction in general. I really want to bring in a broad audience, and certainly the audience has been broad, if not vast.

I spent a lot of time worrying about whether I would manage to alienate both SF readers and general readers.  But I had considered less the SF v fantasy argument.  The marvellous pair Sue Tingey and Juliet McKenna who blurbed my books, and in Juliet’s case reviewed it for SF magazine Interzone, are fantasy writers.

Many people like both, and most people accept the boundaries are a matter of opinion. Attempts to produce rigorous definitions flounder, in part because some things like time travel machines and faster than light travel are not currently believed possible but look ‘sciencey’ enough to pass.

Ray Bradbury’s books are full of things which include star ships, Mars colonies, and time travel.  Yet he claimed that all his work was fantasy except Fahrenheit 451.  I’m amused to see genre powerhouse Forbidden Planet list Our Child of the Stars as fantasy, and I can see their point.

I think some of our choices are based on the aesthetic.  Bradbury’s dreamy prose, and limited interest in the nuts and bolts, makes his work more like a fantasy.

Stories exist.  Genres are helpful, by hinting what the ground rules are, and when to shelve it.

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One Year On: Still Being Reviewed!

So a week and a year since the e-book first hit the aether and Our Child of the Stars still gets reviews.

A brilliant one on the British Fantasy Society website.

 

‘A heartwarming tale of love, loss and unity set in late 1960’s mid-town America’

The book may not bring peace among the nations but it is an interesting example of a book liked by science fiction fans and fantasy fans alike, as well as non-genre readers too.

 

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Launch Friday Sept 20th and Signing Sept 21st

Launch of the All Good Bookshop, Friday Sept 20th.  Gather from 5pm.  Also the launch of my book in paperback.  It is Blue Harbour Yard, three minutes from Wood Green Station.  BAB/snacks.  I wrote about why this new bookshop matters here.  Support independent bookshops!

I am also doing a signing at the ever-supportive Waterstones Enfield, from 12-2pm, Saturday 21st Sept.  Support Enfield’s only substantial bookshop!

You can order a copy from either and I will sign if you like…

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Paperback Writer 19th September

It’s a month till the UK launch of the paperback of Our Child of the Stars. (Thursday 19th Sept.) Anyone who wants one can pre-order it now from all good bookshops and the usual online retailers.

I’ve been blown away by the support and interest I’ve had from family, friends, and colleagues. I’ll take a little bit more of your patience if I can.

Pre-orders count towards the first week of sales, helpful for the charts. And also, not every shop will have it in, but most shops can order it.

The oddity of the way publishing works is that having devoted masses of effort to promoting the e-book, audio-book, and the hardback – despite the paperback being crucial to its commercial success – the paperback often gets less of a push. Although my publishers are doing some good things, which is more than some people get.

If you are on good terms with a bookshop or in a book group which might like it, let me know. The paperback has Readers Notes which I can share.

Word of mouth – or its shiny new friend, sharing on social media – really helps. If you feel moved to share the details I will be pushing out, I’d be grateful.

And the national press has been very generous to the book. In this anniversary of Woodstock and the Moon Landings, exactly why I decided to write about a childless American couple adopting an alien in 1969, remains a bit of a mystery. But most people who read it are not disappointed.

‘heartfelt, richly imaginative and gripping’ (SciFiNow)

‘sympathetic characterisation and fine storytelling’ (Guardian)

‘compelling… the same combination of science fiction and heart-tugging tenderness that Stephen King does so well.’ (Grazia)

‘An out of this world winner’ (Weekend Sport)

‘This strong and generous first novel wears its heart on its sleeve and embeds all the thrills and chills in credible human, and non-human, emotions.’ (Daily Mail)

‘A pleasing, big-hearted read’ (Financial Times)

‘Wholly fresh and intensely gripping’ (Interzone)

‘a wonderfully emotional, heart-warming journey of what it really means to be a parent’ (Los Angeles Times)

Thank you for listening.

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Our Child of the Stars in New Zealand

A lovely group of people called the Bookfairies have been leaving wrapped copies of the book in various places in New Zealand.

This one is from Hamilton and I think must be one of the furthest sightings of the book…

 

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Why do I have to wait for the paperback?

 

A friend doesn’t understand the logic behind issuing the hardback, e-book, and paperback in the way publishers do.  She points to all the successful reviews and publicity at the start of the year, then says – will people remember that when the paperback comes out, say eight months later?

Here’s my thoughts.

The book trade is dealing with the effects of various changes

  • Discounting – supermarkets, Amazon, and discount specialists sell books at very low prices
  • The growth of the e-book (sales may have slowed a bit depending on who you believe – still massive)
  • Audiobooks are growing fast
  • Bookshops on the high street suffer the same pressures everyone else does – high rents and combating online retailers (who sometimes dodge taxes)
  • Book piracy, which is stealing.
  • And there is just more interesting content viewable at home than there was

A big publisher must try to juggle different markets.  For some genres, hardbacks are still more likely to be reviewed in print media, and there is a market for big beautiful object books. And the hardback is to some extent the flagship product physical bookshops try to sell. Yet, those who read e-books are likely to read early and to review online.

I’ve seen pundits argue we need to make people see buying physical books is ‘best’.  (Financially for authors, that’s a moot point.)  Most authors of physical books need buy-in from local shops to get visibility.

I’ve seen other pundits argue we should publish the paperback soon after the hardback, riding on its coattails to build a larger market in size for authors.  They argue a bigger push on paperbacks would allow middling authors to reach more readers and more sustainable income.

(Fun fact: With professional authors, on average their writing is only 20% of their household income- ALCS 2019)

I don’t have a simple answer for what strategy publishers should follow.  What I do propose is to let fans of the book know how they can help in the run-up to paperback publication.  Sub to my newsletter or follow me on Twitter etc!!

(Pix annie spratt, Unsplash)

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