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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The well worn path of Ian Mcewan and science fiction

I published something about Ian McEwan’s new book, what science fiction is and isn’t, Frankenstein, where the word robot comes from, and how this fits with Our Child of the Stars.

Grumpy lifelike male robot
Grump lifelike male robot (photo Pixabay, Pexels.com)

 

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Talk at Quaker Book Centre

There is a long unedited video of me talking to a friendly crew at Friends House in the Euston Rd.   Part one here  It is on Facebook (search for @quakercentre.)   Good event, but we could have covered so much more!

 

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Second helpings: the marvel of sequels

Many great books have great sequels, some even surpassing the first book. Yet the debut author faced with a sequel faces some special issues.

The first book may have taken five years to write and a year to edit. The publisher will want to see the sequel within a year. Building on the audience is key – the book must build on what made fans of The First One like it, but not be a mere reheating. Certainly, it needs to be bigger, bolder… Widening it to reach new fans may annoy the existing ones. Fewer people will review the second, and they may have less compunction about being critical.

Sequels can be close or distant. Close sequels flow easily one to another. The Lord of the Rings was written as one book, divided into three by the publisher. Gene Wolfe’s Book of the New Sun follows the same protagonist through his quest with little gaps between books.  Or, sequels can be more distant.  Ursula Le Guin’s second Earthsea book, the Tombs of Atuan, starts in a different country with a different protagonist.  Ged, hero of the first book, turns up half-way through as a foreign prisoner.  In an extreme case, Adrian Selby asked to write another book in his Snakewood world chose to write one set two hundred years before, explaining the origins of a legendary figure in the first one.

Admiring Selby’s gall, there was never much choice for me.  People who wanted to read a sequel universally want to know what happens to Gene, Molly and Cory, in the very different situation facing them after the first book.  And I knew what that was, so I’m happily writing that.

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