Firestarter lit a fuse for Our Child of the Stars

A new Firestarter movie is the third screen adapation of Stephen King’s novel. I’m going to see it, because I have a weird affection for the book, and it was a curious influence on Our Child of the Stars.

I found out yesterday that SF critic Brian Aldiss agreed with me that Firestarter was a better book than Carrie, which is some support.

Some influences are chosen – for example I knew the arrival of the Meteor would resonate with Smallville, the Superman origin story yet of my creation. There’s also some unconscious Firestarter influence in that both it and my work use the ‘sweet child, terrible power’ trope and both have a family with a special child fleeing unaccountable government forces across the north-eastern US. The clever ending of King’s novel was also an influence on how my first book resolves.

Zack Efron will play Charlie’s Dad, Andy in the new film and if he wants to play Gene in the film of Our Child of the Stars, our people should talk.

I wrote about some of this on Medium.

Zac Efron as Andy protects Charlie in a scene from the new movie

SPOILERS ALLOWED Zoom discussion

I am running a Zoom Meeting on Tuesday 3rd May, 730-9pm BST. This is for people who have read both books or who don’t mind if the brilliant ending is spoiled (!? if such people exist.) All welcome for a civilised chat about the books and allied topics.

There will be other opportunities to talk.

I need your email to send you the Zoom links. Best is to subscribe to my newsletter whose subscribers knew about this weeks ago.

Sweet children with terrifying powers

I have a section on the cool new book website www.shepherd.com. It allows authors to share their books and promote them with five books by other people on a relevant theme. There are various other developing features – check it out. I feature Our Child of the Stars because if you like the first, you will buy the second, right?

My Five Books is “Sweet children with terrifying powers”.

Writers must be careful handing out great power, as it can wreck the sense of peril. In Our Child of the Stars, Cory is innocent, enormously kind, engaging, and lovable. He brings his new family into many dangers. One power is first used to save his parents, not understanding the terrible harm it will do. His empathy makes it horrific to use and he is frightened of it.  It becomes an absolute last resort.

The list has five strong candidates, and one at least was a direct inspiration for my books.  I think there are several newer books from more diverse backgrounds, and I am building a broader list.  TV and film have some classics – Eleven in Stranger Things for example. I welcome examples that are

(i) SWEET

(ii) CHILDREN or naïve childlike teens

With

(iii) TERRIFYING

Powers. 

I have had so many suggestions where (i) BAD (ii) TEENAGERS with (iii) WELL KNOWN AND WIDELY AVAILABLE powers are suggested.

Launch day News and Reviews

Pieces by me about the book(s)

Honest Uplift – SFBook

A case for hope without being soppy. I invent the term gloomerati for those who claim all good literature must be hopeless.  I hope it is clear I have no quarrel with writers whose books are deeply gloomy or the readers who enjoy them.

https://sfbook.com/honest-uplift-a-guest-post-by-author-stephen-cox.htm

Trip Adviser

New England and New York – how I wrote an America of the mind and how much I leaned on actual experiences

A Letter to Past Me-Scifi bulletin

I write to 2018 Me about the tricky issue of sequels – particularly close sequels which is asking “what happened bext”

Five American Works that influenced the two books – SCiFiNow

Reviews

SFBook

Cox has a wonderful way of painting a complex family that feels genuine… This is a a book about hope, a hope that things can get better, that we can work it out, but to get to that point Cox puts the reader through a lot of anguish.

https://sfbook.com/our-child-of-two-worlds.htm

Annarella – Scrapping and Playing blog

“Riveting, compelling, and emotionally charged: a page turner I loved”

Read her review here

Robin, GeekDads and GeekMoms

a wonderful conclusion to a very special duology of novels. If ever there was a book written with GeekParents in mind, it’s Our Child of the Stars [and hence, Our Child of Two Worlds]

Kate, Wet dark and Wild

A wonderful sequel to Our Child of the Stars, featuring one of my favourite characters – the strange, kind, alien child Cory, who knows danger is coming.

https://t.co/oYCSlpXAwk

David, Blue Book Balloon

https://bluebookballoon.blogspot.com/2022/04/review-our-child-of-two-worlds-by.html

Like the best SF, Our Child of Two Worlds is about us, at our best and worst, and how we respond to the best and the worst in others. Cory’s people are from a very different, almost Utopian seeming culture and – as in one of Swift’s novels – we’re judged by that comparison, Cory himself noting it even as his love for his adopted parents and his friends burns bright. Are we worth saving, if we seem willing to destroy ourselves anyway?

A fiercely intelligent, engaged and often angry novel, Our Child of Two Worlds is moving, exciting and deeply readable.

For winternights

Stephen Cox writes beautifully and fills his characters with warmth and self-questioning. I love the incidental characters who debate whether Cory is a hoax. There’s the drama surrounding Molly’s family. There are tensions that play out on an intimate scale against the massive context of aliens, space travel, the potential end of the world. It works brilliantly.

… considerable excitement and tension as the realisation grows that the world truly is in danger. It’s a fantastic story, told so well. Do read Our Child of the Stars first. You need to do that and then Our Child of Two Worlds will be irresistible reading. How I adore Cory, the boy who loved by two worlds!

Chat about Cory March 1st 730pm GMT

Topic: Our Child of Two Worlds Discussion+Publicity

Tuesday 1st March 7.30pm for an hour (or we can run over those who want)
Have a friendly talk about the book, hear me read, Q+A about books writing publishing, and a chat about 3 or 4 simple, painless, and largely free ways to help me get the book out there.

You may not know what is helpful, and indeed, things people do that don’t help.

It’s things like buy the book (the **only** idea that costs anything!) and tell your friends you liked it.

Nice if you can, fine if you cannot. Come anyway, no pressure.

Message me for Zoom link and password.

Ten easy ways to help an author

Here are some things which really help – obviously only if comfortable. Do one, do ten, as you want!

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 is still important

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. Amazon will not take a review until publication day. Review it as soon as you can.

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. Don’t hassle them, give them the facts and let them make their own judgement.

More specialist advice

On Goodreads, mark to read. Like reviews which chime with your thoughts. ‘Shelf it’ where you think it lives.

Preorders signal interest to the trade.

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

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

Tag me in or show me 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.

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.

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.