Friday, 2 July 2021

PRE-ORDER MY NEW NOVEL NOW AND GET 20% OFF

                                                            

In these troubled times, common sense would suggest that people are looking for some kind of light relief. A comic romp, an amusing caper, a few laughs. So I've written a dark, creepy thriller instead. 

What has common sense ever done for me? Fuck that. 

Anyway, Stone Heart Deep is a profoundly disturbing dive into what happens when a troubled investigative journalist visits an isolated culture where sinister ideas about sacrifice and eugenics can thrive under the influence of a charismatic leader. 

One early reader (the novelist Iain Maitland) said of the book: "If you love The Wicker Man, you'll adore this. Once I started reading, I could not put it down."

If you pre-order the book directly from the (small, independent) publisher NOW you can get 20% off. Use the link at the bottom, and when prompted, enter the code: STONE. 

Not only that, but for a limited time you can also get 20% off my previous novel, Please do not Ask for Mercy as a Refusal Often Offends from the same publisher, using the same code.

So don't say I never do anything nice for you. Well, don't say it to me, anyway. I'm sensitive about that type of thing. 

Click HERE for more details and to pre-order both books

Friday, 9 October 2020

PUBLISHING, PLAGUE, AND PLAYING YOUR HAND

My struggle to make everyone even more miserable than they were already.

To paraphrase Tolstoy: Utopias are all alike; every Dystopia is dystopian in its own way. A happy future is desirable but vague, while the horrors we envisage tend to be more specific. However, most of us would probably prefer to be optimistic about the future, despite all the evidence, and our ideas about what will happen are influenced by what we want. When I was younger, I expected the future to have more robot butlers and jet packs, and less fascism and plague, but here we are. And as we survey the landscape that surrounds us, the question for writers and publishers is what to do about it. 
 
I wasn’t thinking about plague when I began writing a dystopian novel, around three years ago. I was more focused on fascism, or what I then saw, naively, as creeping authoritarianism, before it stopped creeping and broke into a sprint. That was just one of the things that changed while I was writing the book. Another was that its tone became darker. The problem I’ve always had with most dystopian fiction is that it’s not very funny. A certain bleakness comes with the territory, I admit, but that’s no reason to be gloomy. My original idea was to write something that I described as “Blade Runner, but the investigator is Inspector Clouseau.” That’s not quite how it turned out. There’s still comedy in the novel, but there’s a noticeable difference between the reaction of British readers and everyone else. The writer and critic Maxim Jakubowski gave it “Top marks for originality and subversive humour,” whereas an otherwise very positive review in Publishers Weekly noted that, “Though billed as darkly comic, there’s little humor in evidence.” At first, I wondered if this reflected cliches about British and American attitudes to comedy. But then I found myself thinking about what people are currently going through on different sides of the Atlantic. If our historical moment has a distinctly dystopian flavour, I think Americans are tasting a more bitter version of it.
 
Late last summer, the date for my novel’s publication was set by the publisher, Eye & Lightning Books, for early May 2020. Then the pandemic arrived, and the world changed. But it continued to turn, and the business of life, or some semblance of it, goes on, including the business of publishing. There are enough challenges facing a publisher at the best of times, especially a small, independent one in a market dominated by big corporate players, and now their resources are being tested severely. My publisher and I discussed the options, and found enough reasons to go ahead, and my book appeared as planned. It was the middle of lockdown, and we waited to see what would happen. 
 
Was it a good idea to publish a novel about a dystopia at a time when many people felt they were already living in one? I can’t provide a definitive answer to that question. But for several years I worked in what has now become the comedy industry, from which I escaped precisely when it started getting industrial. Those years taught me a valuable lesson, which I promptly forgot. However, it’s come back to me now, and its timeless message is that when someone is feeling like shit, you should probably try to cheer them up. That’s a generalisation, but it’s certainly true that people who are having a hard time are a tough crowd to please with material that reminds them of their own misery. Outright comedy or escapism are an easier sell. 
 
But you can easily go mad trying to second-guess the market. When is the best time to publish dystopian fiction? Last year, definitely. Or perhaps next year. Why? Because that’s the best time to publish anything. No amount of cunning or calculation can guarantee you’ll catch the perfect wave to surf the zeitgeist. You might get lucky, or you might fall off your surfboard and disappear. In publishing, the overall turnaround time can easily see several years passing between an author beginning to write a book and its publication. The exceptions tend to be things like the celebrity memoir, which often appears before its alleged author has had time to read it, and books about food, dieting and fitness, which aren’t really books so much as a form of tax levied on human guilt. 
 
It may be a sign of old age to feel that the world is changing more swiftly than it used to, or perhaps the lurid carousel really is spinning faster all the time, but I’m finding it hard to write about things before they blur into history. Perhaps it’s time to revive the serial novel, in which each episode is published almost as soon as it’s written. One of the pleasures of reading Dickens, for me, is to see him incorporating the changing world around him into the novels he wrote this way. It’s a method that would at least help writers and publishers to keep up. Or maybe I should write a Utopian story, in the hope that by the time it’s published, the world will have changed for the better. But as I said earlier, we all know Utopia is boring. It’s Dystopia for me, every time, and I’ll just have to write faster. Personally, I already miss whatever terrible thing was happening before the most recent, even more terrible thing happened.



My novel, 'Please do not Ask for Mercy as a Refusal Often Offends' can be found in or ordered from book stores, or purchased direct from the publisher HERE. It can also be found on Amazon (where reviews are much appreciated).
 
 

 

 

 

Saturday, 2 February 2019

Friends Who Die in Winter



Friends who die in winter: what is their problem? Couldn’t they wait until spring, and let us leave our overcoats at home instead of facing the choice of wearing them in church, and being too hot, or hanging them in the vestibule and shivering in the pews? Could they not allow us to linger as we spill out of the service, and smile sadly in the watery sunlight, and agree it was a lovely tribute, and ask each other how we’re doing, and what are you up to now, and have you heard from that friend who isn’t here, who did that thing, and god, how weird was that? 

Friends who die in winter make it difficult for us. Everyone’s unwell at this time of year, so how are we to distinguish our heartfelt sobs from the sniffles of the common herd, and their common colds? Any fool can catch a cold, and many do, and now they deploy them to mock the dignity of our grief. Meanwhile, the germs they spread may bring us down as well, and if the virus turns to an infection in the chests of those of us who are advanced in years, it may give the karmic wheel a crucial shove, and our friends will end up cursing us in turn for dying inconsiderately in these cold, damp days. People should think these things through, and wait for milder weather before they make their move.

My friend has died in winter. What was he thinking? He could have chosen a better time. My preference would be that season called never. The one that leaves each year intact, and makes no subtraction from our happiness. Never: that would work for me. Or he could, at least, have waited till I’d gone. I was older than him, after all. No respect, that’s the trouble with young people today. 

And what am I supposed to do with all the love I had for him? Surely it’s not healthy to have a surplus. Could I monetise it, like everything else these days? Frankly, I’d prefer to squander it as recklessly as possible. Or perhaps I should spread it around, and try to redress at least one of the inequalities he despised so much, and worked so hard to end. But love has no economy, and every day it swells inside me, a fresh supply with no demand to satisfy it. I’ll need to find new customers eventually, otherwise my heart will grow grotesquely heavy, and burst from its confinement, and I’ll have to carry it around with me in a wheelbarrow.

And what about my laughter? Who will release it now? He was the only one who could undo the valve all the way, and now he’s gone, and taken the spanner with him. But wait. Did he pass it on before he left? If he has an heir, I must seek them out, like a monk searching for the new incarnation of a holy Lama, scouring the world’s remotest outposts, until I find a small child whose smile and voice and restless eyes I will recognise in an instant, with a shout of mad religious wonder, and I will fall at their feet, and anoint them in the glory of my blissful laughter, and my friend will live again. But that’s a dream, of course, and in time it should fade. And when it does, perhaps one day I’ll find myself shaking once again with the kind of laughter only he was able to unleash. It won’t be the same, and I’ll have to stop wanting it to be, but it’s my task to clear the space for it to happen. I’ll take a leaf from his book, and make generosity my watchword, and hope it works eventually. Maybe it will. But not yet. I’m not ready to agree that love and laughter are limitless, and I can’t yet believe in alchemy again when the only alchemist I knew has gone. 

My friend has died in winter, and perhaps it’s for the best. We won’t feel the loss of his warmth so keenly when we’re already shivering in a harsh season. It would be worse to be enjoying spring or summer, or be underdressed in the optimistic glow of autumn, and suddenly to feel the chill of his departure. This way, we won’t notice it so much. That must be it. In the end, as always, he was simply being kind.


RIP Jeremy Hardy



Saturday, 17 June 2017

THE HELL GUIDE TO CROWDFUNDING


1. Begin crowdfunding by making a list of names, starting with your family and close friends. In your heart, bid them farewell.

2. Now list your colleagues and acquaintances. For each person, come up with three reasons why it doesn't matter if you never speak to them again.

3. Send an individual email to everyone on your list, addressing them by name. Make it personal. Affirm your connection with them, and mention the last time you met. Ask how they're doing. Remind them that you know where they live, and what their deepest fears are.

4. Wow, you've hit 20% of your target in the first week! At this rate you'll be funded in no time.

5. Two weeks later, and you're still on 20%. Begin a relentless social media campaign. Stay online all day, every day. 

6. After a week you've hit 30%. That's more like it. After another week you've hit 31%. Shit. Send another email to everyone you've ever met, while continuing your relentless social media campaign. Don't worry, most of those people unfollowing you on Twitter are fake accounts. Probably.

7. Finally reach 50%. NB: If at this point your keyboard is sprinkled with white powder, and it's not drugs, you should probably wash your hair. Also shower, eat, open the curtains,  emerge from your room, comfort your frightened children who don't remember who you are, etc.

8. After another week you're only on 51%. Maybe you should try some positive visualisation. So, imagine your project is fully funded. See it being a huge success. Visualise yourself at an awards ceremony, having given a witty, gracious acceptance speech, as your so-called friends approach you and apologise for not having funded the project, and confess how foolish they now feel. Picture their faces as you deliver an elegant but deadly put-down, whose utter brilliance is slowly grasped by their limited intelligence, while the appreciative laughter of the famous onlookers who now surround you in an adoring crowd adds to their shame and humiliation. 

Okay, that's probably enough positive visualisation.

9. Every day is now a gruelling emotional rollercoaster ride from despair to elation and back again, via agonising frustration, exhausted nonchalance, hysteria, savage resentment, boiling rage, and periodic voodoo sacrifices. Enter a weird fugue state of both heightened awareness and total oblivion.

10. Somehow you finally reach your goal. Weep with gratitude for the generosity and nobility of everyone who supported you, and forgive all those who didn't. They are only human, after all. Puny mortals, who knew no better. But you – you are a god. Your achievement is monumental and eternal. Allow yourself a small glass of champagne to celebrate.

11. Wake up from a three-day drinking binge. Apologise to everyone for whatever you did. Let us never speak of this again. But hey, you did it! The project is funded! The process was tough, but it was worth it. What a journey, right? It was awesome. But there's no way you'd ever do it again, of course.

12. Now all that remains is to bask in the adulation of a grateful public (see section 8).

13. Wait for the grateful public to get around to noticing your achievement.

14. Keep waiting.

15. Realise the grateful public is completely unaware of your masterpiece. What you need is publicity and promotion. And guess what? You're on your own again. If only you had a budget for a publicity campaign, and were able to pay for advertising, or employ a professional PR person. It's almost like promotion is a whole new project in itself, that requires... funding. Wait, maybe there's a way to raise the funds for this promotional project. Perhaps the answer is to persuade a bunch of people to support it. 
A whole crowd.


By the way, the novel I crowdfunded through Unbound, 'Dead Writers in Rehab,' is now available in all good book stores, and on Amazon, where it has garnered a collection of very good reviews. To see them, and buy the book, CLICK HERE.

LATEST: My new novel, 'Please do not Ask for Mercy as a Refusal Often Offends' was published by by Lightning Books in May 2020. To check it out, CLICK HERE

Wednesday, 26 April 2017

HOW I WAS ABDUCTED BY ALIENS


This is strictly confidential, and I'll be in big trouble if they find out, but I'm going to tell you about the first time I was abducted by aliens. It was many years ago, but that first time is still fresh in my mind. So is the smell. I'd heard abduction stories, but none of them mentioned anything about aliens stinking like rotting seal carcasses, or the overpowering stench inside the spacecraft. You'd expect superior beings from another galaxy to have air conditioning, but the inside of that thing was like a cheap hotel room with no windows, where a bunch of elderly men with stomach trouble had been holding a farting contest for a few weeks. Nothing prepared me for it. Most of the stories you hear focus on how the aliens will interfere with you in an unwelcome and personal way. Which is why, as soon as I woke up and realised where I was, I turned to the alien who seemed to be the boss and said:
            "Okay, if you're going to do anything in the way of probing or penetrating go ahead, but at least warm your hands first, will you? Or your tentacles, or whatever." I was attempting to break the ice by introducing a light-hearted tone into the situation, but the alien seemed shocked.
            "Are you serious?" he said. "What kind of people do you think we are?"
            Now, when I say he spoke to me (I assumed it was a male, and it wasn't until later that I understood their gender arrangements, which are a little different from ours) what I mean is that I heard his voice, but his mouth didn't move. Mainly because he didn't have a mouth. "Aha," you're thinking, "it was some kind of telepathy, right?" Wrong. He spoke through his ear. Loud and clear. I discovered they employed one ear for listening, and one for speaking. And one for sex. As I said, their arrangements were a little different.
            Before I could express my relief at hearing that my intimate orifices were safe from investigation, the alien made a noise that sounded like a discreet cough, and continued:
            "However, I must warn you," he said, "that after we've gathered the necessary data from you, we need to conduct certain… procedures."
            I asked what he meant.
            "Basically," he said, "we have to turn you into a redneck."
            Seeing my confusion, he curled a friendly tentacle around my shoulder and continued. "You see, in order to study your species we generally abduct the most intelligent specimens. However, a problem arises once we've extracted their data. If we release them, they're naturally eager to recount their experiences. The more intelligent they are, the more likely they are to be believed, which doesn't suit us just yet. What can we do? We'd never consider killing them. We respect all life forms, even those whose rights are unrecognised by your species, such as whales, cockroaches, trees, and dandruff. Our solution is to transform our visitors into the type of people who lack credibility. Everybody then disbelieves them, and points out how suspicious it is that the only people who ever seem to get abducted are rednecks, weirdoes, and clearly delusional fantasists. So, we're going to reduce your intelligence, put ninety pounds on you, limit your vocabulary, and make your eyes dart around the whole time."
            This was bad news for me, especially as I was, at that time, Regius professor of moral philosophy at Trinity College, Oxford. "But wait," I said, "can't you use some type of device to erase the necessary part of my memory?"
            He laughed indulgently. "You've been watching too many movies," he said. With that, he signalled to his companions, and within moments I found myself strapped on a gurney, losing consciousness. I managed to ask one final question:
            "What is that damned smell?" I croaked.
            "What smell?" he said.
            It was then that I saw the alien had no nose.


And that, friends, is how I became the man I am today: an overweight auto mechanic called Randy, living in South Carolina. As I said, this is all top secret, and if they… wait. That smell. And those lights outside. Dear God, they've found out I'm writing this! Maybe through some kind of brain implant. Okay, I'm going to get this on the internet before they capture me. But if you're reading this, you are now in possession of the truth, and they may come to get you. Remember, the first sign is the smell.

Thursday, 13 April 2017

Christ in Michigan



Christ woke up with a pounding headache somewhere outside Flint, Michigan.
            Resurrection was always uncomfortable, but nobody needs a headache. He recalled what a Buddhist friend of his was always saying: "suffer what there is to suffer, enjoy what there is to enjoy." Or maybe it was the Buddha himself who'd told him that. He made a mental note to ask the fat man about it the next time he saw him.
            He looked around. He'd arrived in a bleak industrial wasteland with a few decaying factories visible in the distance. He hadn't visited America for around fifty years, and the place seemed to have gone downhill. He'd been tempted to go to New York – which is why he didn't.

He headed towards town and checked into the first motel he reached. There was a bible in his room, and he always found bibles entertaining, but it didn't have pictures. The last time he was here he'd loved the religious illustrations he found, depicting him as some kind of hippie Aryan surfer dude with a creepy smile and perfect teeth, wearing a weird, glowing toga.
            This time, in order to adjust his appearance, he switched on the TV and watched everything, everywhere, all at once. Then he spent a moment in front of the mirror and came up with a look: neatly trimmed beard, hair just above the shoulders, and a complexion that suggested mixed Caucasian and African parentage, with a hint of Amerindian. He'd been female in his most recent incarnation, so it was testosterone time again. As he took the pills he discovered the water tasted awful.        
            Almost without thinking he left the motel, located the source of the pollution that was contaminating the water, and fixed it. On the way back to town he had a twinge of conscience, realising he'd broken the no-miracles rule he'd imposed on himself a few hundred years ago. But was it even a miracle if nobody saw it? Anyway, how much harm could it do?

Plenty, it turned out. He'd only been preaching for two days when the trouble started. It seemed the water company was taking credit for cleaning up the supply. Then the government claimed responsibility. But that type of stunt wouldn't fly any more, not with the internet in the picture. People investigated, assertions were made and denied, theories were proposed and debunked, the debunking was itself debunked, and then re-bunked again.
            The water was clean, but everyone was angry. Even the environmentalists were pissed off because they couldn't hold the culprits to account now the pollution had vanished, and where was the fun in that?
            Christ was fascinated by the sheer energy of the online world, a vast parallel universe in which every transaction was conducted by enraged bees.

It was one of his disciples who drew media attention to him. As usual, Christ's followers were the wretched of the earth: street people, sex workers, servants, hustlers, troubled sinners, drug addicts, a few lawyers.  
            One of them filmed a sermon on her phone and posted it to a big Catholic web site. It was simply Christ talking. He wasn't trying to be compelling or charismatic, but he didn't try to fight it either. He'd learned long ago that what was going to happen was inevitable if he told the truth, and he couldn't stop himself telling the truth. That wasn't going to happen.

Christ went viral.
            People found out where he was, and began attributing the inexplicable purification of the water supply to his presence in the region. The media descended, bringing down a shit-storm. For a while, the furious denouncers were evenly balanced with the passionate believers, and he was besieged by would-be converts, hoping for salvation – which could mean almost anything, depending what their problem was. The web went crazy, with every conceivable explanation being proposed for who he really was and what he really wanted. Several women claimed he'd fathered their children, and several others were eager for him to father theirs without delay.
            But soon the narrative scales began to tip. A story about a devious charlatan was easier to pitch than one about a good man telling the truth. Where's the character arc? The dramatic conflict? What's the journey here? The negative spin had more legs.
            Christ prepared himself for crucifixion, of one kind or another. But before the drama could reach its designated climax he was abducted early one morning by a group of serious, unsmiling men, supported by special forces who were masked and armed to the teeth. He was told only that he was being taken to the leader.
            
The man was a strange colour, as though he suffered from some kind of radiation sickness, and he seemed surreally stupid. It quickly became clear that Christ's potential as a weapon was being considered. He was questioned about his 'powers' and how he controlled and directed them. The leader was childishly excited by the thought that finally he had within his grasp the means to inflict defeat and humiliation upon all those who had scorned and mocked him.
            Naturally, Christ had recognised his old enemy at once, despite the bizarre incarnation. In all his many guises, the darkness of the heart was unchanging. But now his eternal adversary was using a new tactic, and Christ had to admit to a certain grudging admiration for his cunning.
            It seemed that the greatest trick the devil ever pulled was no longer to convince the world he didn't exist. It was to convince himself he didn't exist. It was horribly obvious that the president had absolutely no idea who he really was.
            Christ prepared himself for a tough battle.







Wednesday, 29 July 2015

Writing advice from my 16-year-old self.


Dear future me,

This is so weird, thinking about you (me) reading this when you're really old, about forty-five or something, and a world famous author. Actually it's blowing my mind! Haha, so freaky. Sorry, I'm a bit stoned. Am I? Yes, definitely. Last time it turned out I'd been ripped off, but the weird thing was I totally felt high. That's psychology. I have some very interesting theories about psychology and I'm going to write a book about them. But you already know that. How did it turn out? Probably a bestseller. Anyway, I hope you're stoned when you read this, because that will be so weird for you. Which brings me to my first piece of advice:

STAY HIGH.
I can't imagine you'll ever allow a day to pass without smoking weed but I just want to remind you: it's what got you where you are today. Since I started doing it two months ago my literary output has been off the scale. It's opened the doors of my perception (in the egregious words of Aldous Huxley) and unleashed a veritable torrent, cascade, or cornucopia, if you will, of awesome sci-fi, fantasy and horror genre classics that are sure to be snapped up by a publisher. As you know, I'll never do other drugs. Although I may try cocaine, just once. It's so cool to think that when you read this you won't have to worry about our parents finding your stash.

NEVER REWRITE.
Apparently some writers need to do a lot of rewriting, but I'm not that type of writer, and neither will you be. Rewriting destroys the authenticity of your spontaneous inspiration. And where do you stop? Example: I was up nearly all night last night writing 'Behind the Beyond', the fourteenth volume of my 'DoomSlaughter Empire Quantum Quest' dark fantasy series. I only managed fifty thousand words, but they were all pretty good. However, this morning I looked at what I'd written and started to make some changes. I was doing it for, like, hours! Waste of time. My tip: don't reread what you've written, that way you won't have to rewrite it.

CHOOSING A PUBLISHER.
There are a ton of publishers out there, and I'm trying to decide which one I should allow to publish me. Now that you're a rich and famous author you've probably changed your publisher a few times. I can understand that. But never compromise your principles, okay? Always be with a publisher that shares your values: authenticity, spontaneity, and getting high.

AGENTS.
According to some people a writer should have an agent. But I'm pretty sure that's a rumour spread by agents. Forget about it. I mean, why would you allow someone to take a percentage of your money just for… doing what, exactly? I don't get it. Sounds like a scam to me. So please, never employ an agent, no matter how many of them beg you.

MONEY.
Talking of money, please don't let money change you. Now you're phenomenally wealthy it must be a temptation to splash out on another house in Goa, or that unnecessary third Ferrari. Resist it. Always spare a thought for those less fortunate than you. In fact, I suggest you give away a certain percentage of your income. But not to an agent! (Joke. As you can see, I'm currently exploring the use of humour in my writing, to enhance the rich, varied and awesomely broad texture of my oeuvre.) Anyway, bottom line: don't get obsessed with money, like my parents. All they talk about is how much it's going to cost to send me to university. Yeah, right, like I'm going to university. Why would I study literature for three years when I'm already creating it? I feel it would only dilute my natural gift. I haven't told them about this decision yet, and I'm waiting until I've sent some of my stuff to a publisher next week. It may take the publisher a few days to read it and get back to me, but as soon they offer me an advance I'll tell my parents about the university thing, and then I'll probably buy them a house or something. I hope you always retain my true generosity of spirit, future me, and never forget your humble middle-class origins and your family, even though they can be massive dicks.

SEX.
Writers are naturally endowed with great sexual allure and charisma, and I expect a famous author like you is pretty much irresistible to women. But you're probably still married to Sarah. Unless she dies in some kind of tragic accident, perhaps leaving you with an adorable baby daughter who reminds you of her so much that you resist the attentions of all the other women who'll want to marry you as a result of your tragic back story and virile yet tender parenting skills, then eventually you marry the hottest one. Meanwhile you will transmute the leaden weight of your grief into the golden prose of transcendence in an irresistibly poignant but also life-affirming memoir. Whatever. But since I had full actual sex with Sarah, three weeks ago, I haven't thought about anyone else, even when I'm masturbating, so I think I love her. Apparently men masturbate less as they get older, but you'll obviously still want to do it, even though you're having sex with Sarah several times a day, provided she's still alive. But whenever she's not around, try to restrict yourself, and don't masturbate more than five times a day, maximum.

That's all.

Looking forward to being you!