Order signed copies

There will be signings in Haringey and Enfield around launchtime.

Fabled bookbox gurus Tea Leaves and Reads loved the first one. They have made Our Child of the Stars their April Book of the Month in hardback. They plan to make Our Child of Two Worlds a later Book of the Month. Both will be signed.

All Good Bookshop, Turnpike Lane, London (Cooperative bookshop, community hub, meeting place for groups, and supporter of my writing group.) You can ask for it to be signed, or dedicated, on the web order.

Ten easy ways to help an author

Here are some things which really help

Please pre-order the book, because no bookshop stocks everything. Seriously, if you go browsing for it, you could miss it.

Please tell your friends, word of mouth still counts

Please share your thoughts with other people on social media – I am on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and tag me if you like

Obviously sharing my social media too would be lovely!

Please consider reviewing it on Amazon, Goodreads, Waterstones.com, and anywhere else which seems appropriate.  Reviews don’t have to be essays, just a few sentences will do.

With reviewing, it is good form/expected to say if you were given a free copy but say that this did not affect your review. You 100% don’t have to declare that you know me. It’s not local authority procurement.

Please ask your local library to stock it. I get a few pence on each loan and it gets the book into the hands of people who might not otherwise see it

I think this book and its predecessor are great Book Club Books – bound to create discussions

Yes, suggest to your local bookseller if they will stock it. Don’t worry if they haven’t seen it or don’t remember – no one can remember everything. Be polite, try to choose a time when they are less busy, and give them this written handout. (to come shortly) Don’t hassle them, give them the facts and let them make their own judgement.

(Bit niche.) On Goodreads mark it as ‘want to read’.

Here are three things that don’t help. Please don’t:

Complain to me it is not in a particular shop. Literally nothing I can usefully do about it.

Tag me in poor reviews as I will probably have seen it. It’s not wise for an author to respond to a poor review.  I shrug them off – people’s tastes differ. The best solution for a bad review is a better one.

Be grumpy with booksellers, or other people online. Not that you lovely people would do that.

12 weeks to go – Our Child of Two Worlds

Our Child of Two Worlds completes the story begun in my much-praised debut, Our Child of the Stars.  It will be published in the UK on Thursday 31 March 2022, in hardback, eBook and audiobook.  Please preorder it to avoid disappointment.

I am going to be busy promoting the book and talking about various aspects of it.

No spoilers here

Small-town USA, entering the Seventies. A childless couple Gene and Molly adopt a strange, wounded child of the stars they call Cory.  Molly is the main narrative voice – a passionate nurse fighting for her own extraordinary child. Cory is gentle, vibrant, excitable, endlessly curious and loving – and come from yet his otherworldly origins. bring both joy and danger

In Our Child of Two Worlds a figure from the past brings uncomfortable truths and Gene and Molly face the terrifying loss of everything they took for granted. A divided Earth is under threat – humanity needs Cory’s people to return to save the Earth – but if his people take him back, it will break Molly’s heart.

My writing offers hope, optimism, and a taste of humour, but still facing up to the dark and difficult side of life. I think books can create worlds a bit different from ours, and still be truthful, providing the characters feel real. It was fantastic how well the books landed with readers of all genres. I hope I make people think, but it’s always a good story, not a sermon.

It’s not about the pandemic, at least not directly.

Here’s a few thoughts to whet your appetite.

The stakes are higher than before – for the characters and the Earth. Gene, Molly, Cory and baby Fleur face hatred, danger, and separation. I liked my agent’s summary of the first book

…a big Hollywood canvas and an intense family focus, emotionally devastating, funny and charming all at once’

So to reassure you, the big picture stuff is seen through the family’s eyes.

I bring in three memorable new characters I’m very proud of to make life even more complicated.

It’s an end of the world novel in several respects. It was an era with a real threat of nuclear war and a growing understanding of how humanity could destroy the environment.

Add to that, there are malign forces in space which could destroy a squabbling Earth. At that time the superpowers were edging towards more normal relations – the President whose career was built on fighting communism is about to visit China. Is there enough sense of common humanity (or love for nature) to unite?

As ever, it asks what we owe each other in this life. As ever, how people disagree makes the world what it is.

Please spread the word

How long is long enough?

The Art of Mending with Gold

Above Pop, the burning bowl of the cloudless sky, in every direction parched earth and dusty trees, and rocks striped with colour long before there were men.  The old man looked at the empty road, from the empty diner, believing he was alone.

The Hidden Words is an arts project to show short pieces of writing at the Blue House Yard, Station Rd, Haringey.  The opening of my story “The Art of Mending with Gold” is one of the pieces chosen. It is one of my favourites – I love the short story form, which allows free reign on themes and ideas, and imposes its own specific disciplines.

How long should a story be? Specifically, what makes something a short story and what makes it a novel?

A good short story gets into the situation, does its work, and gets out again.  It has more in common with songs and poems (of typical length) than novels do.  And very long stories told in poetry have more in common with novels.  Some short stories work at 1000 words, and some at 5000.

“The Art of Mending with Gold” is 1700 words.  A stranger comes to an isolated diner in the US desert west, with extraordinary consequences. The story has a beginning, a development, an end. It has three characters, and the action is concluded in one day.

The first answer to how long is intuitive. If everything seems to work, why make it longer?

Pop and Fernanda, and the stranger, are real people, and one could write their lives up to the point of the story. But I feel we know enough about them to understand what happens that day and to care.

The story ends how it does because (in my view) we don’t need to see anything more to understand emotionally what has happened, and we have space to imagine the wonder of how things are now and how tey will be.  Any more explanation feels unnecessary, assuming it is even possible.

Of course, everyone’s reaction can be different.

My novel Our Child of the Stars started as a short story, which showed the family preparing for Halloween, and then their peace is disrupted.  The conclusion showed the dilemma of their life together.

The short answer as to why it became a novel was that so much remained to be told. I wanted to show the sadness in Molly and Gene’s marriage, how Cory came, and why they were so convinced that they had to keep him a secret.  The short story showed a crisis unresolved. Was that day or something else going to bring more danger?

Showing that meant starting earlier – either to when Cory came, or as I decided, even earlier to show both joy and disaster in their marriage. Then, after that Halloween, if more danger comes, how do they prepare, what do they do? Where does it end? A novel is an exercise in obsession, thinking beyond what you need to write, understanding your characters in depth.

Once I knew Cory could not fit into one novel, it was soon apparent that it needed to be two. The first one works as a single book but left big questions unanswered. Readers would tolerate one key question gets some answer by the end of the second book. That’s where Our Child of Two Worlds comes from.

Sometimes a story could be longer and you still don’t.  You may love a short story with novel potential, and choose not to grow it into a novel. I have an 11000 word story where someone discovers the truth about their horrible society.  The elite will clearly not give up power without a struggle and there would be love, honour, struggle, sacrifice and perhaps redemption. My protagonist would be a player within that struggle. No shortage of material.  Yet I had said what I wanted to say, what interested me was in the story already.

As ever comments below! Or drop me a line.

Update on the book…

I’ve just sent out an email newsletter with an update on the book progress, news about the launch date, and new short story set during the time of Our Child of the Stars but in the USSR.

This is the first of a number of short stories I’ll be sharing in the run up to the publication of Our Child of Two Worlds. You might like to subscribe, you can never guarantee seeing any post on social media! And I don’t write unless there is something new to say.

www.tinyletter.com/stephen_cox

Our Child of Two Worlds – into copyedits

A quick note to say that Jo my editor has come back to me on Our Child of Two Worlds, she is very happy, and we are through to copyedits. 

Thank heavens.

Publication pencilled in for November although slipping to January 2022 is not beyond the bounds of possibility.  I know, I’m impatient too.  The pandemic has thrown timetables awry.

Copyediting works at the level of scene, paragraph and sentence, not least as the draft has piled on the pounds as I worked on it.  I’m looking forward to this, not least because it holds no fears – it is getting the book into shape, not arguing about what type of book it is and what exactly to focus.

I know so much more about writing a sequel now!

Editing is important feedback, and certainly made Our Child of the Stars a clearer, better paced, and more focused book.  You don’t always agree with the editor’s edicts – so what do you do?

It reminds me of a quote which summed up the issue with feedback.  Is feedback right, and what do you do about it?

There is good advice out there, but a writer must walk a knife’s edge. They must be humble and open minded enough to accept criticism and be willing to change. Yet, they must be confident enough in their own style to ignore bad advice. The problem is telling the two types of advice apart.

(Quote from Petewood – literally some random guy on the same writing bulletin board I use) 

I think it goes broader than style but to intent. And it is not necessarily that advice / feedback is bad.

One of the crucial things I learned from writing groups is the necessity to accept feedback that you don’t like may be right – but also the possibility that some advice offered firmly may not be right for you, or this story.  Some people hand down advice like they have tablets of stone on Mount Sinai.

That’s why in addition to tenancy, ability, and luck, I would always say ‘learn how to take feedback as dispassionately as you can, and know what to do with it’. You will also get contradictory feedback.

Jo and I agree what this book is trying to be.  Therefore, pointed in the same direction, I can judge her notes as trying to get us down the road.  Maybe her concerns will be met her way, or another way I will find, or maybe but not often, it will be a no.

Bring it on.

Paperback launch US and Canada

Cheery news. I am out in paperback in the States and Canada on Tuesday 2nd Feb.  This is satisfying and marks the end of my debut life.  The last launch of Our Child of The Stars.  And if you’ve read the book, and its origin story, you’ll understand why being on sale in the States feels very right.  (It has been out in hardback and ebook for ten months.)

Here are some buying links

It is on sale through Barnes and Noble, and Chapters Indigo (the biggest Canadian bookseller) and Amazon and Nook and so on.  Of course people can order it and IndieBound.com helps you find indepedendent stores.

This combines usefully with my other cheery news.  Which is that I sent Our Child of Two Worlds (Draft Four) back to my editor last week, some weeks ahead of schedule.  It’s largely there and I hope on track for a launch August-to-autumn. 

Super Relaxed Fantasy Club appearance

Super Relaxed Fantasy Club video. During lockdown this London based but wider minded group asked lots of authors to do them a film. I talk about the book, ‘wanting’ to be a writer, men, and other stuff.  Revel in the technical skill (had to do a second take for second half.) Phil who edited it did a good job.

Super Relaxed Fantasy Club is an informal meetup for published authors to read to a group – it has been going for a while in various venues and since lockdown one has been doing a video a week or more online. Interests cover SF, Fantasy, Horror and literary people surprised to discover fantasy readers are erudite and interested. Follow them on Facebook and You Tube. It was a part of exploring the genre world for me, which I knew a bit, and understanding better how writing and publishing works.

In which I change agents

You could already have seen this news. Why not subscribe to my newsletter?

My agent Rob is moving out of agenting.  He’s sorry to go and I’m sorry to lose him. Perceptive and thoughtful, Rob picked my book from the slush-pile and got it to fly.  Who knows if Cory would have been published without him? (At least not as quickly or as well.)  He’s taught me a lot and I’m grateful.

It prompted some philosophical musings on publishing, but first the facts.

Fortunately, Rob can still give me his feedback on the next draft of Our Child of Two Worlds, so I will have that continuity.   Check out his latest books, The Toymakers and Paris by Starlight.

Rob is not one to leave you in the lurch.  I have a new agent, Alex Cochran of C&W, one of the larger agencies (and as it happens, the outfit who already partner Rob in handling my film rights).  Alex was on my top agents to try list, both for my unpublished novel, and for Cory. He likes the book, and its cross-genre appeal.  I’m optimistic Alex can help me navigate the strange waters ahead.  Getting the second book finished is the priority and then, Next Big Thing.

And the moral of this is, that publishing is a rum old game.  So many people assume that it’s all slog finishing that book and sending it out, but once you get the agent, all is plain sailing.  A book a year and the fifth book will win the Booker, the Hugo, or be in the Richard and Judy Bookclub. 

Real writing careers are more complicated. Famously George R R Martin wrote three books which were successes and the fourth, Armageddon Rag in the eighties, flopped.  He moved into TV and editing anthologies for a decade. 

Agents and editors move on, or fall out, there’s a merger or a start-up.  That brilliant idea doesn’t come off, the sequel doesn’t come off, or indeed, there is suddenly a nasty little virus. Many old hands say it’s harder now to have a steady career than in their youth.

That’s why I guess three things for authors I’ve come to realise, catching up with the wisdom of more established writers.

  • Write for joy. There will be days you hate it, but overall if you don’t enjoy it, there are other things to do.  In fact, people who write primarily for themselves can be very happy authors.
  • Make each work as good as you can.
  • Don’t define your self-worth purely by the financial and critical success of your work.