The Writing Engine

I’ve taken a writing break through the month of January. I can’t say it was entirely deliberate, but neither has it been negative. Between two weeks of viral infection, getting back up to speed with work and a flurry of preparations for the Writing Industries Conference, I have had to concede that writing would have to take a back seat until February.

For anyone who loves writing, any long period where you can’t find enough time or the right frame of mind to escape into your imagination can be deeply frustrating and even upsetting. I’ve found that when these times happen, as they do to everyone, you have to let your writing engine wind down at least a little little. As writers we develop an engine of determination that makes us sit down for hours at a time and capture our dreams in words. If the energy from that engine can’t be channelled, it builds up and spills out in disturbing ways. It can also turn into cycle of frustration, where the negative energy of not writing stops you writing which produces more negative energy and so on.

My solution (and I’m better at writing this than sticking to it) is to use periods like this as writing downtime. Sometimes you need to clear the decks of your imagination, throw out or at least put aside old ideas you have been meaning to write, and see what new material comes out. Periods when you are busy with other things can be good for clearing your mind completely, then you can come back to writing with a clean slate.

Fingers crossed it works out for me this time!


Beneath Ceaseless Skies offer epub editions of their back catalogue as free downloads.

Angry Robot stimulates mass debate over book cover art


iPad Fail. iBook Win.

So Apple has launched the mythical iPad / iTablet / iSlate to the world. It is officially called the iPad, and it will sell millions. And then be the most common device in second hand electronics stores when people realise it has no real application.

Apple had to pull something new out of the bag to make the iPad the same kind of success as the iPhone. What they have given us instead is 10″ iPod Touch. No new screen innovations, and no improved interface technology. It is too big to be a useful mobile device, not big or powerful enough to be a laptop replacement. If I buy an iPad I will still need an iPhone and a laptop. With both of those I do not need the iPad. The iPad’s luminescent screen and piddly 10 hour battery life make it no more effective as an eReader than a laptop. And the need to dock with a external keyboard for effective typing are simply an admission that Apple has not been able to get an effective touch screen interface to work better than a laptop. Is there a market for this device? Yes, but it is a relatively small niche audience looking for a pretty toy rather than the mass audience the iPhone caters to.

In contrast, the announcement of an iBook store is good if very overdue news. iTunes is the dominant, established marketplace for media, and I am certain book sales through it will be good news for writers and publishers alike. However, until Apple deliver a better reading device I think people will be more likely to read them on their iPhone than the new iPad.

LOROS Fundraiser Reading

I am doing a special reading on Saturday 30th January, and I would like to invite readers of this blog to attend.

LOROS is a Leicestershire hospice offering care for those who are dying. I was really honoured to be asked by local writer Keith Large to read at a fundraiser event for the charity. My mum passed away in a hospice after a long battle with cancer, and the care that was given to her there made every step of that journey more bearable. I will be reading my short story Cthul-You, and anyone attending will also be treated to poetry, theatre and a reading from non-other than Graham Joyce (*cough* World Fantasy and 5 time British Fantasy Award winner *cough*) It’s also in the city Guildhall, a rather ancient venue which is fitting as the night has a spooky theme.. So. Both a good cause and a good night.

‘A Spooky Night at the Guildhall’ LOROS Fundraiser Event, Leicester Guildhall, 6:30pm on Saturday 30th September. Tickets £10 including wine and nibbles.

Are 70% royalties the future?

It’s possible that 27th January might be remembered as the day that destroyed publishing. But if it is, it may be a day of joy for writers.

Unless you are living under a stone or a raving technophobe you are probably aware that on 27th January, Apple, the people who brought you the iPod and the iPhone are likely to announce the iTablet (or iPad, or iSlate, depending on the rumour mill you listen to) The iTablet may do many things, but the consensus of opinion seems certain it will operate as an eReader, and that Apple will launch some form of eBook market place to provide content, with Harper Collins in the frame as a major content provider.

In what is almost certainly a pre-emptive strike against Apple, Amazon, the people who brought you the Kindle and its Ebook marketplace, have raised their royalties from their current 30% to a wapping 70%. Given that Amazon is unlikely to give away 40% of any income stream without good reason, it is likely that Apple’s eBook marketplace will offer royalties at a similar level.

Which marketplace will win is difficult to predict, although given their preeminence at cornering markets my money is on Apple (but only just, as Amazon are no slouches either) The really interesting question is this. If a digital eBook marketplace gains the same dominance in publishing that the iTunes music store has gained in music, is there any role left for publishers?

Standard author royalties run at 10-15%. That is a low figure by any reckoning. But it is a level most authors have had to accept in order to do business with publishers, because publishers control the means of distribution. Yes, publishers do many other things as well – editing, marketing, production and so forth – but it is the reach of a publishers distribution chain into bookshops that makes them a necessity. A dominant online marketplace would seriously threaten publishers monopoly over distribution.

If the effect of digital downloads is any indication, publishers will survive just as record labels have. But their role will be significantly altered. If it transpires that authors can publish work directly to an eBook marketplace for a 70% royalty, is it possible that those authors will continue to accept a 10% royalty from a publisher to put them into the same marketplace? Likely not. Cold hard numbers will ultimately answer that question, but it seems very likely that significantly higher royalties will be an early outcome of the eBook revolution.

Guardian Books Podcast – SF Special

I have the pleasure of being a guest on this week’s Guardian Books Podcast. This was my second time on the show, but this time around the whole episode is dedicated  to speculative fiction. Hurrah! We discuss the new John Wyndham novel (yes, you heard that right) and the reasons why there are so many sub-genres in SF. Michelle Pauli interviews China Mieville, and I give my SF picks for 2010.

Listen to the Guardian Books Podcast – SF Special

Whatever happened to the Next Weird?

The first Guardian blog post I wrote (just under two years ago…how time flies!) was titled The new world of the New Weird. I wrote the piece fully aware that the New Weird had already been and gone, but with the idea that it was none the less an interesting movement in genre fiction to highlight for The Guardian readership, who likely had no idea that genre fiction was capable of such literary experimentation. I also wanted to ask where the next wave of literary experimentation would come from. After New Weird, what would be the Next Weird?

(My mind is thinking all of this over as I recover from a weird 48 hour bug, so excuse me if I drift into a slight hallucinatory state as I type.)

I’m slightly disappointed that two years on I’m still waiting for an answer. Later this week I’ll be on The Guardian books podcast talking about, among other things, exciting new SF titles for 2010. Now, its not that there aren’t any exciting titles slated for 2010. But what I can’t see are any really experimental titles. It seems that in the wake of the recession and the titanic upheavals in progress in the publishing industry, genre fiction has entered a period of profound conservatism. Much of the new genre fiction to be published in 2010 seems to be very much ‘generic’ in nature, with very little that pushes at the boundaries of genre. I think thats a great shame, because without the new ideas and energy provided by more experimental writing genre fiction quickly grows stale. And without them the Next Weird might never arrive.

But maybe I’m wrong. Are there interesting and experimental authors set to make a mark in 2010? If so please tell me, so I can track down their work.


Thrin tells us all about her Yellow Wallpaper.

The Hugo awards are open for nominations, Electric Velocipede are eligible in a few categories.