What I’m up to - September 2023
Finishing a novel and taking a break.
September was a pretty awesome month - I finished a third draft of my current novel and then sold a short story to Clarkesworld!
Writing and editing
The first half of this month was spent doing what I’ve come to call a ‘slow-read’ edit - opening up my novel file in Scrivener, dialling the text size up to 400% in Composition Mode (so I can only see about three or four sentences) then reading every sentence, one after the other, and making any changes I can think of that result in a better sentence. Not surprisingly, these better sentences are often shorter too.
I was doing this third ‘slow-read’ edit while I waited for my beta readers on PROJECT ALTHROP to come back to me, which they duly did. This worked really well, as I was able to make notes on their feedback and either make the changes immediately, or add them to my big list of ‘things to fix’ as I slowly made my way through the draft.
There’s also something quite pleasing about the linear chapter-to-chapter progress of a slow-read edit like this - you’re basically reading your own book but at a really slow tempo, like someone practising the blocking on a dance move, so you can really spot the rough parts and polish everything to a high shine. And once it’s done, it’s done.
I finished that edit right after I got back from Bloody Scotland (more on that below) and sent it off to A Person, which was followed by A Phone Call. Once again, my apologies for the vagueness, but I’m hoping in the next few weeks (?) to be able to announce some… news. Exciting news. No idea when, but stay tuned.
This book isn’t finished - there will be further rounds of edits with other people. But the book is ‘Done’ from a Me POV - I’ve made it as good as I can on my own. There’s something satisfying about that, even though I know I will be reading (and re-reading, and reading again) this book for at least another 6-9 months before it’s finally ‘Done’ Done. As I think I’ve said in this newsletter before, a big part of making your peace with the editing process (and publishing more generally) is accepting that you will read everything so many times you will be utterly sick of anything you write by the time it sees print. In a way it’s good - you almost know something’s ready when you can’t wait to see the back of it and do something, anything else.
New work and submissions
My story ‘Hull Run’ is moving towards publication at Analog SF, and I received the page proofs early this month. It was really awesome to see everything laid out in classic SF magazine double column style. It also looks like I will have custom art commissioned to go with the piece, judging by the placeholder pages. I can’t wait to see what that looks like. This story will be out in the January/February 2024 edition of the magazine.
I also found out about another short story sale yesterday, but I can’t share it yet as the contract is not signed. Suffice to say I am utterly stoked.
But that’s okay, because last week I was incredibly pleased to find out I’d sold my third piece to Clarkesworld Magazine in under two years. ‘Such Is My Idea of Happiness’ is a novelette and will be coming out this weekend on October 1st! Keep an eye out on my social channels for a link to both the text and audio versions as they are released. Edit: It’s up now, read it here.
‘Such Is My Idea Of Happiness’ is a post-climate catastrophe story of a flooded Britain where genetically engineered ‘Brights’ no longer need to sleep and have (as a result) effectively captured the governance and economy of a depopulated country. They control a class of hyperstimulated workers called ‘redeyes’ who try to keep up with them. The story follows Andrew, a redeye ‘Intuiter’ whose job is to ride herd on the algorithms that extract value from a slowly dying planet. He does the job because the Brights, who never sleep, have lost the ability to both dream and to make the kind of intuitive links that non-modified humans can. But then, right after applying for a promotion which will allow him up to four hours of sleep a day, Andrew loses his job and is approached by the mysterious Arabella…
This story was a rewrite of one that I first wrote nearly a decade ago, but which I could never make work. I didn’t re-read the old version before doing this one - instead I started from scratch, replotting with the same basic idea. I think it worked out really well and I’m super chuffed that it sold.
I felt incredibly fortunate to sell one short story to Clarkesworld, never mind three. Back when I started submitting short stories again (having previously only submitted on paper in the early 2000s) making a sale to Clarkesworld with my first submission felt like a glorious fluke and then selling my second six months later like a streak that could not possibly last. And it didn’t, of course - my next two were rejected in the first round. But this one, story number 5, sold. And three out of five submitted is a pretty good ratio. I don’t know what I’m doing that the Clarkesworld slushers and Neil Clarke seem to like so much, but I’m going to keep trying to do it.
Publishing and community
My community event this month had absolutely nothing to do with science fiction, for once. I lead a double life as an author of spy thrillers (PROJECT ALTHROP is a contemporary spy thriller), but I’ve spent the past four or five years building up connections, friendships and community in the SFF world, going to conventions, hanging out on Discords and going to book launches.
However, I had heard from multiple people that Bloody Scotland, our biggest homegrown crime and thriller book festival, was an absolute hoot and a great place to meet people writing in the genre. So I packed my bags and went for the weekend, staying in Stirling for the night and going to panels, pubs and pitch events. I’m very lucky to have three good friends who also write thrillers and who had either been before or were going for the first time themselves, so we formed a wee quartet and had a whale of a time.
I got a bit self-conscious meeting some writers I really admire (for the record, Mick Herron, Ava Glass, Charles Cumming and Anthony Johnston are all lovely), but it was worth it just for the panels, never mind the bar-based networking. I’m definitely going to try and go next year, although it’s the same weekend as FantasyCon, which I also have an ambition to go along to. I may end up alternating them, depending on what I’m writing in any given year.
But if you’re a writer who does anything even vaguely thriller-ish, I can’t recommend it enough.
I didn’t read a single published book in September. Between finishing my own book, travel for Bloody Scotland and beta reading, I just… didn’t?
However, I did finish a beta reader draft of A Dark Century by my friend Jordan Acosta. This is Jordan’s first completed novel and boy howdy, it does not read like a first novel - more like a fourth or fifth. I tried to summarise it for someone else recently and the best I could come up with was ‘Post-post-apocalyptic Neo-Regency, Neo-Puritan dieselpunk murder-mystery, political thriller and spy movie rolled up into one’. I read a beta draft, but I have no doubt once Jordan has edited this book further, it’s going to go places.
It’s part of the great privilege of developing a writing community that people trust you with their beta drafts. Being part of making great books into fantastic books is just my absolute favourite thing.
I will read a tonne next month, for reasons noted below.
September was harvest season in our garden - we got armfuls of tomatoes, courgettes, lettuce, even a tiny little melon. So we’ve been having a lot of sun-warmed sliced tomatoes with salt on them, as well as some really delicious sandwiches.
My walking routine fell to pieces this month, as the thermometer went all over the shop, swinging between 25°C one morning (too sweaty to walk at the pace I need to) and 7°C the next with sheeting rain. But it worked out, because I was galloping ahead on my edits.
October is going to be the Month of Rest. For various reasons, we haven’t been abroad on holiday since 2017 and so far this year I haven’t had any real time off. My two ‘breaks’ this year were a week-long writing retreat where I wrote 15,000 words in a week, then another week during which I went to a book launch and tour-guided my critique partners around Edinburgh, walking about eight to ten miles a day - extremely fun but the opposite of restful. I then spent the summer working my day job and writing a whole novel, averaging 40-50 working hours every week.
Suffice to say I am tired.
In a week’s time, Valerie and I will be boarding a ferry from Newcastle to Amsterdam for our overland trip to Budapest, one of our favourite cities. It was a round-number birthday for Valerie in August, so we’re getting fancy with some upgrades, like an en-suite sleeper train from Amsterdam to Vienna. Then, two weeks in an apartment by the Danube. Since we’ve been to the city twice before, we have absolutely no concrete plans except to go and sit in the thermal baths as much as possible, drink excellent coffee, eat good food, read, sleep and wander about a bit (but not too much). I’m also going to take the opportunity to completely unplug from the internet, so no Discord, Slack, Twitter, Bluesky or anything else. Just me, Valerie and some books.
To say I can’t wait is an understatement.
Good links, going cheap:
- This is a great interview with Wesley Chu on Publishing Rodeo. Look, I recommend pretty much every episode of this show in my newsletter every month. Just subscribe. Seriously.
- We had RJ Barker in the links last month, and here he is again, in an interview with the Page One Podcast, recorded live at Cymera Festival. Terrific stuff.
- In podcast crossover news, I loved Sunyi Dean’s appearance on Page One. Sunyi is one of the hosts of Publishing Rodeo and an all-around Good Egg, so it was great to hear her talking a bit more about her own journey with Marco and Tariq.
- Oooh, Cymera are doing a one-day writer’s conference in November! If you’re in or near Edinburgh and you’re a writer, this is a no-brainer. There’s also some complimentary tickets for folks with financial restrictions who still want to attend.
- I really enjoyed this interview with Ola Alexandra Hill from Analog’s companion website.
- Shamelessly stealing these two Kathleen Schmidt links from MK Hardy’s newsletter because they’re great - Book Publicity - what works and Book Publicity - what works part 2
- Genoveva Dimova did a cover reveal for her forthcoming Balkan-inspired fantasy book ‘Foul Days’ and it’s an absolute stunner.
- Loved this collaboration between my friends Jordan Acosta and Shauna Lawless on the real life Queen Gormflaith, who inspired the character of the same name in Shauna’s Gael Song trilogy.
- This visualisation of what the ancient city of Tenochtitlan might have looked like is pretty incredible.
September was a bit of a hard stop after a frenetic summer of writing and editing. After a few days of me moping around the house following the submission of PROJECT ALTHROP, Valerie told me I clearly had a ‘book hangover’ and she’s absolutely right. But the book is in now, the temperatures are finally dropping, the nights are fair drawing in as we like to say in Scotland and autumn is actually here now.
I hope you either had a bit of an opportunity to rest this summer or, like me, you’re doing so in the last quarter of the year. I am very tired and hopefully when I next write one of these I will be fully recovered after taking the waters in Budapest. We don’t do enough of that sort of thing these days - proper, unplugged breaks from anything and everything that plagues us the rest of the year. I hope you get a chance to unplug soon.
In the meantime, as ever, keep reading, keep writing and keep moving.