Friday, 13 June 2014

This is The One I’ve Been Dying to Talk About

Amongst the Science Fiction and Fantasy writing community it is a rather big thing to make three professional story sales. What do I mean by professional? Well, SFWA (the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America) specify particular markets as being qualifying professional markets. If you sell to three of them you meet the qualification criteria and can apply to join SFWA as a full, active member, and this would be, for me, a very big deal. SFWA is kind of the professional association for science fiction writers. Meeting the full SFWA membership requirements has been high on my dream list for a very long time.

I first discovered SF when my dad started borrowing Analog anthologies from the library. I was about ten or eleven, and in those days I wasn’t even allowed to set foot in the adult library until I was thirteen. There was a children’s library, full of picture books, and I had to make do with it. So I did what any child would do when faced with a strict prohibition, I defied it. In this case I smuggled my dad’s yellow-and-black covered Analog anthologies up to my room and read them. This is how I discovered Science Fiction. I couldn’t get enough. I encouraged my dad to go back for more, week after week. I had no idea, then, that Analog was a magazine. You couldn’t get it in the UK. In fact you didn’t seem to be able to get much of any SF in the UK in the sixties. 

So, I’ve set the scene. Ten years ago three pro. sales was up there with walking on the moon or playing for England in a World Cup Final. Highly desirable but rather unlikely. In 2007 I won the first Jim Baen competition and the story appeared in Baen’s Universe, and I didn’t even realise at the time that this was pro sale number one. Then in 2008 I won Writers of the Future, and that was number two. Since then I’ve sold nearly two-dozen stories, but none of them have been to pro markets. Despite many encouraging rejections, three pro sales still felt farther away than the moon.

Until last week.

Pro sale number three, The Last Days of Dogger City, will appear in Analog! Forty-seven years since discovering SF between those hallowed yellow-and-black covers, reading under my bed covers with a torch, I make my third, and all important, pro sale to Analog. To say I was jumping and happy-dancing around the room is an understatement. I found the email at four in the morning, because I couldn’t sleep, and so I did what you do with insomnia at four in the morning, I checked my emails,

But it didn’t end there.
The next morning I had insomnia again, this time I couldn’t sleep because I was still excited about the Analog sale. So once again I checked my emails. 
Pro sale number four, The Man in the Pillbox Hat, this time to Orson Scott Card’s Inter-Galactic Medicine Show.

I tell you, right now, joy has no bounds!

Wednesday, 7 May 2014

Would you open your door to a wizard, at midnight, and 
offer him tea and biscuits? Sometimes the things we do 
are not in our complete control.

New story, Bring Me My Broadsword and My Spreadsheets of Fire is now up on Sorcerous Signals May/June Issue.

With thanks to Holly Eddy for the excellent artwork

Wednesday, 2 April 2014

Why I don't get depressed by a three-year rejection

I got a rejection on Monday that is three years since submission. I'm fine with it. In fact I'm happy. Why?
The rejection is for a novel, so okay they can take a while to read. It was from a major publisher - a major publisher, and by and large they liked it. I got the idea they'd been thinking about it. There was advice on how to fix the few problems they had found, and from this it was obvious that somebody had read through to at least the three-quarter mark, if not the end. For a slush reader to get beyond page one is, I think, a really big deal. They didn't have to read so much of it, so there might be something of a hook in there? They also said they didn't like British humour (it was a US publisher) and yet they read most of it and told me some of the bits they thought were especially funny.

So what do I take from this is:

  • The novel must have some merit.
  • They cared enough to give me more than a form rejection.
  • They gave me enough of a crit to fix the creaky stuff.
So before rolling out Plan B I now have the tools, for free, to make it a better read. And I have validation. Plan B involves getting it professionally edited then publishing it on Kindle.

So watch out for Elton D Philpotts: Deep Space Accountant at an e-reader near you. Coming soon (ish) 

Saturday, 22 March 2014

Transport Futures

Two-hundred years ago I would, most probably, have spent my entire life on the Wirral, a small peninsular tucked in between North Wales and Liverpool. It is unlikely I would have ventured across the river Mersey, to Liverpool. It is possible, I suppose, that on occasion I might have saddled my horse, or hitched it to a cart, and made the inter-city journey to Chester, a bum-sore fifteen miles away.

This morning I set my alarm thirty-minutes earlier than usual and travelled to London. I arrived at nine. Fifteen minutes and two short tube journeys later I was at Imperial College, for a one-day symposium on Transport Futures. So is transport important? Important? Transport is life-changing and empowering, and so often taken for granted and accepted as a given of modern life. It is therefore surprising how, in Science Fiction, a literature that builds so heavily on history, we so often find public transport and logistics to be so poorly represented. Okay, so we have our space rockets and our generation starships; we have our space elevators and jet packs; we have our beam-me-up-Scotty matter transfer technology; but how often have we seen a ton of vegetables or a container-load of bottled water being dragged through the Stargate? And how do our intrepid spacefarers get themselves from their homes to the spaceport?

These are not subjects that were discussed today. That kind of extrapolation is more my goal and that of other science fiction writers, weaving narrative threads, to entertain, speculate and inform,  from the near-future ideas of academics and transport professionals like those who shared their visions with us today. We heard presentations on eleven areas of future transport, areas that are bound to touch the lives of each and every one of us in the coming years.

Eleven topics in one day is a lot to summarise here. I won’t try to do it all. There were surprises and revelations. There were concepts so futuristic as to leave this poor science fiction writer struggling to project the curve very much further, and these are concepts that are just around the corner, and there were cautionary tales, too, that hinted at dystopian clouds on the horizon; warnings that will need energy and vision if we are to avoid them.

Dr Miles Elsden is Deputy Chief Scientific Advisor at the Department for Transport. He spoke of the challenges that face public transport in the near future: Population growth, emissions and climate change, an ageing infrastructure and extremes of weather. He told a (possibly) apocryphal story from the US that suggested the average car owner uses their vehicle only 6% of the time. Others in the audience confirmed this, saying 6% was probably on the high side. Is such under-utilisation of capital assets sustainable in a post-peak-oil future? There has to be alternative ways of getting around (although a little voice in my head was saying, yeah, so long as the alternative comes with a tow-bracket for my caravan, but that’s a whole different blog). His presentation was upbeat, giving tech examples that are in development now, driverless vehicles, connected cars, self-driven trains, and platooning.

Adam Greenfield is a Senior Urban Fellow at LSCE Cities. He made an interesting case for the design of transport nodes, which, he said were places of heightened awareness and stress. He spoke of the oft-stated goal for transport solutions to be seamless, but in fact expressed the view that seamlessness was a myth. We should embrace seams. We should design our systems with beautiful seams. We usually see mobility as equalling source and destination, when instead mobility should be seen as a space itself. He quotes Georges Amar, author of Mobilités Urbaines, who proposed two ways in which we might earn time: we can shorten the trip or we can do something productive during the trip. (Hey, I like that one, I’m just passing Crewe as I type.) Adam Greenfield is also a believer in free public transport. I’ll come back to both these concepts later.

David Bonilla is a Senior Research Fellow at the Transport Studies Unit of the University of Oxford. His presentation was on the subject of freight transport. He opened with a statistic: 50% of world transport energy is used moving freight. Seems a surprise at first, but then, think about the quantities of stuff we consume. Think about how this stuff has to be moved around the world. He spoke of the growing need to diversify from oil and the need to balance competitiveness with sustainability. Freight transport is, more and more, being driven by the growth of e-commerce. We don’t talk enough about freight transport. Perhaps we should.

So yes, transport. Not the most sexy subject? Not science fiction? But I left Imperial College at five, I had a pleasant meal in the city, and I am now blasting North through the Midlands, home by nine-thirty if all goes well. I am grateful I do not have to do it on a horse.

Thanks to Dr Gary Graham for asking me along to this symposium. Thanks to everyone at Imperial College for putting the event on and making us welcome. Useful and interesting links to sustainable and future cities topics appear at the end of this blog.

Post script. There is another side to this story. I arrived at Runcorn Station at 21.30 and climbed into my car. I paid £8 for the car park and was home by 21.50. I was in bed by half-past-ten. Instead, I could have stayed on the train to Liverpool Lime Street and continued my journey by public transport. Why, then, did I choose to stomp seven-league-boot-footprints of carbon all over the Cheshire countryside? Adam Greenfield said all public transport should be free. At this point in his talk it was all I could do to restrain myself from leaping to my feet, pumping the air with my fist and shouting yes, yes, yes! I am passionate about free public transport. There are all kinds of economic models that support it, and yet it is a subject that is rarely spoken of in public. But, there is, as ever, another side. Had I stayed on the train to Liverpool my choice would have been Bus or local rail. The local rail option is good, but there’s a half-hour walk on the other side, which, as it happened, would have been in the rain. The bus, for me, is free, and there are plenty of them. But had I chose either option I would not have arrived home until nearly eleven. Georges Amar says, shorten the trip or do something productive on the trip. I will happily use my iPad on inter-city rail, with a little table to rest it on and a coffee at my elbow. I have more respect for my property and personal safety, though, than to wave four-hundred quid’s worth of iPad around, on a bus, in certain areas, at eleven o’clock at night. Yes, clearly we have a way to go. Free isn’t quite the whole answer. Provision isn’t quite the whole answer. Transport isn’t quite the whole answer.

Sustainable Society Network
tweet: @sustainablesoci
Too Smart Cities, Guardian article

Sunday, 16 March 2014

Too Smart Cities

Following on from the Future Cities event I attended earlier this month, here is an excellent article that sets the scene, and shows why I am so excited to be involved (in a very small way) in the FCCR network. The article is by Dr Gary Graham. It was first published in The Conversation, but subsequently picked up by The Guardian. It's a fascinating read.

Right now I'm on my way home from a day of art delivery in London. On Friday I'm back on the train, returning to the capital, for the Future Transport event which is connected to the FCCR network. Very much looking forward to that one.

Sunday, 2 March 2014

Science Fiction: New Death

This is one for the diary, ‘‘a major contemporary science fiction exhibition’’ being held at the Foundation for Art and Creative Technology (FACT) in Liverpool, from March 27 to June 22, 2014.

"Science Fiction: New Death seeks to provoke the question – have the Sci Fi visions we once imagined of the future since become a reality? The exhibition presents works of art that explore these questions and considerhow technology has created new ways of living, fashioning new identities, forms of intimacy and desire."

Here's theweb site.

Thursday, 27 February 2014

Future City and Community Resilience Network

Last week I was lucky enough to be invited along to a meeting of the Future City and Community Resilience Network at Manchester University. The group is organised by Dr Gary Graham of Leeds University (who also belongs to the BSFA Orbiter crit group of which I'm a member, hence the SF connection), Eve Coles, Professor Chee Wong, Dr Anita Greenhill and Professor Rashid Mehmood.

The group's aim is to build research agendas to answer questions on how the dynamics of cities will be changed and challenged by escalating environmental and technological pressures. The concept of Smart cities and Big Data are predominant in the group’s thinking. The team comprises academics, business professionals, and research students, but Dr Graham is doing an interesting thing by inviting Science Fiction writers to be part of the conversation.

The first of the presentations was by Dr. Joe Ravetz, Co-Director of the Centre for Urban Resilience and Energy. He is a leading thinker on sustainable futures for urban and regional development. His talk drew attention to the complexities of the various cycles of pressure that exert an influence on the way cities react to change. He highlighted influences such as energy production, industrial needs, human interaction and finance, and touched on the concept of Urban Intelligence. Part of what I got from this presentation was an understanding of the problems that face the world-building Sci-Fi writer in understanding the way different influences overlap one another. He drew examples from the environmental impact of flooding, which was quite topical in a week when a substantial part of Britain was under water.

The second speaker was Dieudonné (Didi) Manirakiza, who works as a housing support officer while studying for a degree in Leadership. The opening image in his talk is one that will stay with me for some time. It was a recent photograph of Didi, standing in front of his childhood home, a simple, round hut in the village where he grew up, in Burundi. It brought to life the immensity of his journey, and was a truly inspirational talk, delivered with honesty and passion. A constant theme in Didi's presentation was the ethos of "I can, I can", a determination never to give up, that has carried him through circumstances that would stop most of us in our tracks. Didi showed how a community can be energised by simple will and through the force of a charismatic personality. The human touch is still key in forging vibrant communities and is a core factor that should never be overlooked.  Yes, it would be fair to say that Didi Manirakiza made a big impression on me. 

The FCCR network has a website under construction. Once it is live I'll post a link here.
A common thread, prevalent amongst writers, is a tendency to have worked in diverse and varied day jobs. For some, though, it is preferable to go with the financial security of regular, mundane, bean-counting employment. In such cases mental stimulation has to come from other areas, and I was grateful to be asked along to this session and share with such motivated people. I certainly gained a lot from the experience. I hope the small contribution I made was useful.

Next month I will be heading down to Imperial College, in London, for a Transport Futures Symposium, where, amongst other things, I hope to find the answer to the question that is on the minds of all SF enthusiasts: what happened to my jet pack?  

Wednesday, 1 January 2014

Review of 2013

I thought I'd put together a summary of my writing landmarks in 2013, as much for my own benefit as for anything else. Sometimes it's useful to take stock.

The year started well with three successive publications:

January: The Third Attractor appeared in Abyss and Apex

February: Ship of Fools appeared in Kasma SF, a Canadian market. The story was beautifully illustrated by Jose Baetas.

Then in March Dagan Books' Fish anthology was released, and included my story The Last Fisherman of Habitat 57.

June saw The Photograph in Lamplight, a quarterly online anthology that was compiled, a couple of months later, into Lamplight Volume 1, a handsome print anthology comprising the four preceding online issues. The Photograph was a horror/paranormal story, my third sale in this genre.

A short flash story, The Biggest Pumpkin in the World was the featured story on in November, then, in December, Ship of Fools made a second appearance in the year, in the print anthology of humorous SF, Cosmic Vegetable, from Dreamscape Press.

2013 was a good year for conventions. Eastercon was in Bradford, almost local for me, and there was an excellent week in October that started out with Bristolcon, then headed south and east to Brighton for World Fantasy. To cut costs we stayed at a camp site about three miles along the prom. It rained, it was windy, we got wet. But it was wonderful. I met a lot of people I already knew online but hadn't met in person before. They know me, now, as some rugged, dishevelled, wild-man from the north. 

So what about 2014?

Two stories are already in the can. The Abolitionist will appear in issue 8 of the Kindle magazine, Kzine, soon this month. It's a mixed genre story that has found a good home in a magazine that offers stories of diverse styles, and avoids any genre categorisation, allowing the reader to make up their own mind as to what kind of story it is. I'm yet to decide what genre this particular story falls into.

In May I have another double venue, when my spoof fantasy, Bring Me My Broadsword and My Spreadsheets of Fire is set to appear in both the e-zine, Sourcerous Signals, and in the print anthology, Mystic Signals.

Then there's Loncon3, my first Worldcon, and it's in London. I won't be camping out for this one, I promise. I have a reputation to bury.

And that's all. Except that 2014 might also see Elton D Philpotts: Deep Space Accountant hit the Kindle shop. This will be the first in a series of Sphere of Influence novels. Watch this space.