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In the Year 2022

So, 2022…

The global and national handcarts still have destination “Hell” emblazoned on them and appear to be accelerating to their dooms. Still, this blog post is supposed to be about my writing achievements this year, so here goes.

I made good progress on the second version of my novel. It’s almost done. That doesn’t mean I’m finished with the book, as it does need more work, but hopefully not much. Overall, I’m pleased with what I’ve created. I do plan to start marketing it next year.

On the short fiction front: I wasted far too much time writing stories for themed anthologies, which the editors rated excellent but could not find space for. For IP reasons, neither story can be used elsewhere, at least not in their current forms. I’m afraid my instincts were seduced by these passion project(s). I should know better. I do know better. The trouble is, sometimes my writing heart overrules my marketing head. Oh well; lesson learned. I will never again write a story for a themed anthology that would be difficult (or worse) to market elsewhere. (In passing, a writer-friend told me to “just file the serial numbers off”, i.e. remove/replace all the IP-related details. Yes, I could do that, but to my mind the resultant story would be inferior, because all the passion that went into the project would have been leached out of it.)

Despite the above, there were some highlights on the short fiction front. I was particularly delighted to receive an acceptance from Interzone Digital. A change of editor (to Gareth Jelley) brought a change in fortune. This was my
first positive response from Interzone since 2003. Persistence pays!

I saw the following original stories published in 2022:
Slow Money – in 22 Ideas About the Future (Cybersalon, accepted in 2021)
Sky High With Janine – in Abyss: Stories of Depth, Time and Infinity (Orchid Lantern, accepted in 2021)
Starless – in Shacklebound Books Newsletter #1
Those We Leave Behind – in Sci Phi Journal

Plus my first published poem!
Venera 9 –  U.S.A. Anthology (editor Sourav Sarkar)

Reprints published this year:
On This Day – Helion SF (Romanian translation)
I Think We Need to Hear That Again – The Mods anthology
Dreamtime – Tall Tale TV (podcast)
On This Day –  Radon Journal
The Little Shop That Could in 22 Ideas About the Future (Cybersalon)
POD People Constraint 280

Stories accepted this year but not published yet:
Feet of Clay – Interzone Digital (due 2023)
The Museum of the High Street – Museum Piece anthology (reprint,  Metaphorosis Publishing, original title “The Little Shop That Could”, due 2023)
Survival Strategies – Moon: The Book of Lunar Horror anthology (reprint, due 2023)
Supply and Demand in the Post-War Economy – Planet Raconteur (reprint, podcast, unknown date)

I continued to serve as one of Wyldblood magazine’s first readers for short stories. As in 2021, I enjoyed a lot of what I read—and it’s always pleasing to see some of the stories I recommended make it into the published issues. Editor (and good friend) Mark Bilsborough and his team continue to do an excellent job with this magazine. Please buy an issue, or better still, subscribe!

For various reasons I will probably have less time and energy to devote to writing in 2023. Hence I will focus on finishing and marketing the novel, also on assembling a new self-curated collection of my published short fiction. From now on, I suspect that any new short-fiction projects will be few and far between. I also hope to start the development and planning work for my next novel. But, as ever, these plans might not survive contact with reality.
Let’s hope it’s a good year—for everyone, everywhere.

Wishing you all a very Merry Christmas and/or annual festive period, also a safe, healthy, and happy 2023.

2021: Making the best of it…again

Last year I wrote that I hoped things would improve for us all in 2021….

Yeah, about that.

I also wrote that bad times tended to galvanise my writing activities. Happily, that remained true in 2021.

This year, I’ve seen new stories published online at The Quiet Reader #2 (The Book of Love) and at Tales from the Cybersalon: The Future of the High Street (The Little Shop That Could – my reading is here, starting at 8m30s), and in print in the inestimable Ian Whates’ No More Heroes anthology from PS Publishing (A Stranger Shade; favourable review of anthology and my story here). I also saw English Language reprints published in The Other Side Book of Ghosts (Laying the Table), the Flash in a Flash newsletter (Writing on the Wall), at The Dread Machine (Touching Distance), and at Emerging Worlds (The Last Moonshot). The English Dead was translated into Catalan and published in Catarsi #29, while The Centropic Oracle produced a splendid podcast of last year’s Nature Futures story On This Day. I’ve also made three of my more recently published stories available at pay-to-view site Simily. Not a bad haul.

On the acceptances front: I received four for new or previously unsold stories. I mentioned The Little Shop That Could above. Awaiting publication in 2022 are Sky High with Janine in the Abyss anthology from Orchid Lantern; Dust Bunnies from Shoreline of Infinity; and one other that will have to remain under wraps for the time being, at the publisher’s request. I also have further reprints forthcoming from Helion SF (Romanian), Internova, Constraint 280, and an untitled Italian astronomy-themed anthology.

Turning to new writing: I completed the first draft of a new novel, A Place in Time, gave it a quick de-linting, and sent it to my first readers. Let’s hope they like it. I also started, completed, and submitted five short stories, three of which found good homes. That’s about 96000 words of new fiction in all. For me, that’s a good effort.

I have also worked on a semi-secret non-fiction project, the output from which will hopefully start to appear next year, initially in the form of a website. It’s a purely personal project and of niche interest.

My other ongoing activity this year has been serving as one of Wyldblood magazine’s first readers. I have enjoyed many of the submissions and endured relatively few bad ones. It’s been a great pleasure to see several of the stories I recommended to the editors appear in print and pixels. Editor (and good friend) Mark Bilsborough has done an excellent job with this new magazine. Please buy an issue, or better still: subscribe!

I only attended online writing-related events this year, including all four sessions of Cybersalon’s Tales from the Cybersalon, which were great fun and thought-provoking. Again, I can’t see that online-only aspect of my writing life changing much next year.

As for what 2022 holds on the writing front… it’s too early to say for sure. Unless my first readers tell me to “nuke it from orbit” (always possible), I hope to revise A Place in Time to completion. However, I am a very slow reviser. I am currently working on a rewrite of a novella I drafted several years ago – and that, too, I hope to complete next year. That’s a lot of “hope” there rather than commitment, I hear you say. It’s a fair cop, but to be frank, I’m not confident when it comes to longer works. We’ll see. I have no shorter projects on the stocks at the moment, but inspiration or an enticing anthology theme will no doubt prompt me to snap into action on that front sooner or later. There is also that non-fiction project I mentioned, so there will be plenty to keep me occupied.

Wishing you all a safe, healthy, and happy 2022.

2020: Making the best of it

None of us got what we expected this year, that’s for certain. Some endured a horror story. Others of us looked on, aghast but not too severely affected as events unfolded. I was one of the lucky ones. I hope you were, too. If not, you have my deepest sympathy. I hope things improve for you in 2021.

On the writing front, this has been a good year for me. I’ve seen my work published and I’ve been busy on new projects. For some reason, bad times tend to galvanise me. That’s what happened in 2020.

This year, I’ve seen new stories published in Nature Futures (On This Day, my first there since 2013), the Vast anthology from Orchid Lantern (Dreamtime), plus two stories in the Flash in a Flash newsletter (Laying the Table and Everything’s Better with Ads). I gave readings of Dreamtime and On This Day at Virtual Futures events in 2018 and 2019. I’ve also seen reprints of my stories published in the Milford SF Writers Christmas blog, Wyldblood Press’s inaugural Wyld Flash, in the Ghost Stories for Starless Nights anthology from DBND Publishing, plus my first translation into Spanish appeared in El Futuro del Ayer, Hoy (an anthology).

For 2021, The book of Love is scheduled to make its first appearance on the 1st of January at The Quiet Reader, another new story is forthcoming in an anthology from PS Publishing, plus there should be reprints at Sahitya Subarno (Bengali translation) and The Dread Machine. Other reprints are due to appear in the Worth 1,000 Words: A Flash in a Flash anthology, Mortal Realm’s SF anthology, and in an untitled Italian astronomy-themed anthology.

In all, I received eleven acceptances this year, seven of them for reprints. Those came from well over one hundred submissions. Contrary to expectation, I found no lack of places to send my stories this year. The high rejection rate is just one of those things a writer has to learn to put up with. One needs a thick skin and a perseverance mindset.

The year started slowly in terms of my writing work, but the Spring lockdown in the UK spurred me into action. I wrote first drafts of several short stories, one of which – Laying the Table – I’ve completed and seen published. More importantly, I decided to start a new novel project (having abandoned the previous one in 2019). I had three possibilities, which I struggled to choose between. Eventually, I decided to write the first three chapters of each novel, partly to see how much I enjoyed the process, but also to put them in front of (virtually!) the writers’ group I belong to. I did this not to duck the decision-making, but rather to assess and understand my peers’ reactions to the themes and characters. Happily, the novel opening that received the strongest positive response was also the one I’d most enjoyed writing. Less happily, it was also the one I knew least about in terms of where it was heading. So, I spent most of the summer and autumn developing the novel’s plot and character arcs. By the beginning of November, I was ready to start writing. So far, I’ve managed over 33000 words of A Place in Time. The most difficult to write parts of the novel are to come, but I will do everything I can to complete the first draft in 2021 and then let a few trusted writers look at it. The other two novel openings also have their strengths, so I expect to develop them further at some point. I’ve also begun a long-term project to write a non-fiction book, or perhaps a website, about one of my favourite although now obscure authors. I’m in the re-reading and information gathering phase of the project at the moment, which will take at least another year. So, I am in the happy position of having plenty of big projects to work on for the foreseeable future.

2020 also saw me release a new collection of my published fiction. The Last Moonshot & Other Stories is available as an e-book and print-on-demand paperback from Amazon.

This year did not feature attendance at any writing-related events, at least in person. I can’t see that changing much next year.

Wishing you all a safe, healthy, and happier 2021.

1000 and counting

As well as seeing a story published by Nature, yesterday also delivered my 1000th rejection for a short story submission. I started this game in February 1997, but I didn’t receive my first acceptance until five years later, almost to the day. That was from a fondly remembered British magazine called Scheherazade. Since then I’ve received another 150 acceptances, mostly for reprints. To date, 45 of my stories have seen publication, with another one pending. My first rejection (personal!) came from Interzone, my 1000th from Cossmass Infinities (form).


2019: A Year of Distractions

This was a year when external factors meant that I didn’t get a lot done on the writing front. First and foremost, I got married! So, what with the planning, the doing, and the honeymoon…, well I reckon it’s a pretty good excuse, although not one I can re-use next year. Hopefully, I can reconnect with my writing mojo and get back in the groove.

I did undertake one major project before the wedding preparations shut down my writing activities, which was to complete a first draft of the second book in my  proposed ‘Survival Strategies’ series. I had about a third of it written already – material excised from the first book – and I was pleased to find that writing the remainder was relatively straightforward. However, I was much less pleased with the quality when I read it a few months later. To be frank, it stank, which was not how I felt about the first book. As things stand, I can’t see me revisiting the series. I can’t completely rule out a change of heart on that; but given various publishers’ disinterest in the first book and my disenchantment with the second, it seems unlikely that I’ll ever feel motivated to fix the huge problems I found.

I’ve continued to market my unsold and previously published stories this year. While I sold quite a few reprints, only one story found a first home. I look forward to seeing Dreamtime – which I read at a Virtual Futures Near-Future Fictions evening in 2018 – in Orchid Lantern’s Vast anthology next year.

Talking of Virtual Futures, this year I gave readings of two of my unpublished stories at their Near-Future Fictions events: On This Day at Autonomous Agents, which I co-curated with Stephen Oram, and My iBed and Me at Boundless Bodies. I’ve had a great time working with the folk at Virtual Futures over the last three years and hope to do so again at some point.

A rather bizarre consequence of co-curating a Virtual Futures event was to be named as co-director on a short film that was a finalist for this year’s Bio-Fiction festival. In fact, the glory belonged to Andrew Wallace, since he wrote and performed (superbly, I might add) his story The Minus Four Sequence at the aforementioned Autonomous Agents event. I co-selected the story for that event and sat in the audience, completely agog, while Andrew performed it without a script. Does that count as co-direction? Not in my book! Anyway, far more importantly, the short-listing will surely have boosted Andrew’s fast-rising profile – and deservedly so.

Reprints of my stories appeared in (or at) Flash in a Flash, Omicron Theory (Ecuador), Reaktor (Estonia), The New Accelerator, Itty Bitty Writing Space, Little Blue Marble, First Contact, Sins and Other Worlds, and Virtual Futures: Near-Future Fictions vol. 1. Also, the Centropic Oracle produced a podcast of One Is One. But without question, this year’s biggest pleasure was to see my flash-length piece I Think We Need to Hear That Again published in the A Punk Rock Future anthology from Zsenon Publishing. I recommend the entire book to you; it contains many excellent stories.

Somewhat tangential to my writing but highly relevant thematically: 2019 was the year I appeared on television for the first and doubtless only time! Anyone who has read my Moondust Memories collection will realise that I am a child of the Apollo era. Yes, I am old enough to have watched the first moon-landing, the 50th anniversary of which we celebrated in July. What some of you may not know is that, back in 1995, I helped to locate and return some clips from the BBC’s live broadcasts of the Apollo 11 mission, which were missing from the its archive. In June of this year, BBC One’s The One Show programme showed a mini-documentary in which I and others recounted the history of the broadcast and its rediscovery. It was great fun to be involved with the project. Sadly, the programme is no longer available to watch online.

As for 2020, well I do have some writing projects on the go. As ever, we shall see what comes of them.

Review of ‘The Illiterate Ghost’ by Alan Price

On first read, the sixteen mostly brief pieces collected in Alan Price’s The Illiterate Ghost seem to cast only passing glances towards one. Yet on re-reading, their aggregate effect is one of a sustained gaze that seems askew but insightful nonetheless. These stories penetrate.
This is slipstream fiction, or interstitial if you prefer, where the countervailing forces of fantasy and mundanity quiver in an unstable equilibrium. Whether cast as formal experiments, as in Index to the 1896/1907 films of George Méliès, or as a more traditionally plotted story, such as Okura’s Tree, William’s Bridge—which brilliantly demonstrates how mutual sexual obsession can transform, through loss, into something much more lasting—Price’s fiction cleverly illuminates the weirdness of our lives.

You can order this chapbook from Eibonvale Press.

2018 Summation: Round and Round I Go

With one notable exception, this last year felt like more of the same. I take that to mean it’s time to think even more about the future than I usually would at this time of year.

As has been the norm for the last several years I received quite a lot of acceptances for my short stories, albeit mostly for reprints. Needless to say, every acceptance is very welcome. The highlight for me was receiving one from the editors of the A Punk Rock Future anthology for a flash-length story. I wasn’t a punk back in the day (late 1970s!) but I grew up during that era and listened to a lot of the music, so that acceptance meant a lot to me.  I even bought my first electric guitar on the strength of it. I also received an acceptance from an invitation-only anthology for another music-themed story–my first ever invitation for an original piece of fiction, in fact!–but the anthology has not been officially announced yet, so I’ll just have to keep my fingers crossed that it goes ahead. Another acceptance came from a promising-looking new online publication called Electric Athenaeum, but I was disappointed by how few readers there seemed to be for what I felt was a timely story about humanity’s response to Global Warming, the onset of the Singularity and the lure of space exploration. Sadly, ‘Good to Go’ sank almost without a trace, although it is still online at the time of writing. My other acceptance for a new story came from Speculative 66, which published my nano-fic story ‘The Working Week’. On the reprint front, ‘Slices of Life’ appeared in New Orbit Magazine, ‘Family Tree’ in She Blended Me With Science and Issues of Tomorrow (both anthologies), ‘Someone Else’s Problem’ in Odd Tales of Wonder magazine, and ‘One Is One’ at Kasma SF. I gave a reading of my unsold story ‘Dreamtime’ at one of Virtual Futures’ Near-Future Fictions events and the Flash Fiction Podcast recorded a version of the second of my ‘Reeves’ stories, ‘Warbling Their Way to War’.

During 2018, I sought to find a home for my ‘Survival Strategies’ novel. No luck so far, but Book 2 is now under way. I think it might easier to sell them as a completed series. At least I hope so!

Easily my most enjoyable writing-related activity was contributing to Virtual Futures Near-Future Fictions events. I co-curated their Post-Brain themed evening in May with the inestimable Stephen Oram. This was great fun. I enjoyed selecting the stories and working with authors to polish them, also compering part of the event.  The readings were well-received, even mine! I enjoyed the experience so much that I volunteered to do it again this coming March, when the theme will be Autonomous Agents.

I also continued to read submissions for Albedo One magazine. Again, it’s an activity I find enjoyable in its own right, but also worthwhile in that it helps highlight my own writing’s strengths and weaknesses.

I’ve been writing (mainly) science fiction for a little over twenty years now. I’ve been lucky enough to enjoy fairly regular publication of my work since 2002. What struck me though, as I reviewed this year’s successes, is that my earliest published stories often appeared in more prominent publications than those that have been accepted more recently. This is a disappointing trend to say the least. I do not seem to have moved forward at all, at least in terms of visibility in the science-fiction field, although I hope I’m a better writer than in 2002. In truth, the market has gotten tougher because there are more good authors submitting fiction than ever before, some of them drawing on a much more diverse range of backgrounds and experiences. I am firmly convinced that more diversity is a good thing. But my inability to step up to another level does make me wonder whether, going forward, I should continue in the same vein as I have up to now. So in 2019 I will take some time to consider my goals and how I approach them. I have a lot on my plate next year that has nothing to do with writing, so I intend to take a sabbatical from April to September (at least), which will hopefully result in the rebooting of my muse and either a new or reinvigorated direction for my work. In the meantime I will continue to market my portfolio of completed stories.

Wishing a very happy New Year to you all!

What if one what if collides with another what if

My mind is a “what if?” generator. I write in order to answer that question, or more usually a pair of them. Answering one “what if?” generally only gives me an idea for a vignette or a tediously linear tale. But if two of them collide then I’m usually on to something.

My published story “First and Third” is a case in point. While holidaying in the Tucson area of Arizona some years ago, I was fascinated to see roadside billboards displaying memorials to the recently deceased. What if, I wondered, a driver saw an animated CGI version of their much-missed loved one during their journey? How would they feel?

But that’s not yet a story. It could be, but it needs something more.

Another of my notebook’s questions to myself went along the lines of “What if the digital afterlife operated as pay-as-you-go service?”


So now my character’s deceased wife is begging him for money, from a billboard. And just for fun, the narrator is riding a nuclear-powered Harley Davidson on Mars. Now that was a story I needed to write.

The result was First and Third, which appeared in Postscripts 26/27 “Unfit for Eden” (2012).

If you’d like to read First and Third you can find it in my Moondust Memories collection, which is available from Amazon, Smashwords, iBooks, etc.

Why do I write?

Because every now and then two “what ifs” collide.

(First published at The Thinkerbeat  Reader, 1 November 2019)

What Kind of ‘Topia?

British author Jule Owen has written an excellent new SF novel, The Kind, which is set on a future Earth where both the environment and human societies have been transformed by the effects of climate change, but also by technological advances. The book explores both the dystopian and utopian aspects of the scenario, while telling a compelling story. I strongly recommend you purchase and read it.

For her book’s launch event, Jule assembled a panel of scientists, writers and futurists to discusss its themes. I was honoured to be a member of that panel, along with Danbee Kim, Christine Aicardi, Stephen Oram, Alan Ashley and Simon Gosling.

With Jule’s permission, I have reproduced below the two-part question she asked me and the notes I prepared for my answers. I hope they will be of interest and might stimulate further discussion.

Jule’s question(s) to me:
(1) Is there something in our culture that is biased against positive stories?
(2) Are gritty, disastrous, violent, dystopian stories more artistically valid?

Notes for my answers:
(1a) I think our bias toward stories that evoke dark emotions, i.e. fear, anxiety, dread  – which I’d argue are often stickier memory-wise than positive ones ­– predates “culture” as it is commonly understood in Western society (caveat: other cultures might differ). I think this bias is deep-rooted, likely dating back at least to Neolithic cave art, perhaps even to when Neanderthals were widespread (e.g. recent cave art finds c. 65,000 BC). Could the roots of dark fairy tales stretch back to at least Neolithic times? I wouldn’t be surprised.
(1b) In recent decades there have been many more dystopian works than utopian ones (compare the online lists!). This is partly because it’s much easier to create a satisfying story, with characters that develop while overcoming challenges, in a dystopian scenario. But Ursula Le Guin’s The Dispossessed provides a superb counterexample: a satisfying story that fully engages with utopian themes. I think works like The Kind, which engage simultaneously with both extremes, will become increasingly prominent.
(2a) Are negative stories more artistically valid? This is even harder to answer, because what do we mean by the term, and how would we measure it? Is it simply whether (and for how long) a creative work continued to exert influence? To my mind, ongoing relevance isn’t enough to qualify a work as “artistically valid”. Theodore Sturgeon’s Venus Plus X (1960) meditates on gender fluidity in a utopian society in ways that are arguably highly relevant now, but many 2018 readers might find it tedious to read because it is light on plot. But for all that, I think it’s a good book and still well worth reading!
(2b) Something I find interesting in this context is whether a different ending would have altered our perception of a work’s significance. Would George Orwell’s 1984 be less influential if Winston Smith had evaded Big Brother? Would Margaret Attwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale be less revered if Offred had escaped from the Eyes’ van? Turning that around: Would The Road by Cormac McCarthy be more artistically valid if the boy had died at the end? It’s interesting to speculate, but difficuktto answer.
So I have more questions for you and no clear answers!

After each of the panel members had answered Jule’s questions to them, there was a wider debate, with several intriguing questions coming from members of the audience. It would be inappropriate to record those here, although I have included another of my pre-prepared notes below, which I referred to during those discussions. I used it to introduce a term that seems pertinent to the utopia-dystopia dichotomy and which seemed to gain a little traction that evening.

Do we need (will we see?) more stories of what I’d term “dotopia”? In this scenario, “to do” is the maxim and “it will do” is the goal. Such stories won’t be about the pursuit of utopia (unreachable, in my view) but instead will feature protagonists who strive for solutions that are “good enough”. These stories will explore scenarios where humans strive to make climate change bearable for all, to limit the power of corporations, where everyone will do work that enhances the common good.

2017: A Writer’s Year

I’m pleased to report that this year has been a particularly productive one. If we wind back to just before its start, December 2016 saw me commence a sustained phase of writing new short fiction – everything from micro-stories to novella length. Most of these have yet to be finalised let alone published, but I have a bank of stories to work on during 2018 and beyond. I took two of these pieces to the Milford SF Writers’ Conference in September (my fifth since 2004). Both were very well received. The quality of fiction my fellow attendees brought to this year’s event was breathtaking. The critiquing process was arduous, as always, but I spent a highly enjoyable week in soggy Snowdonia and made several new friends.

Since Milford I have written another new story, which is in response to an invitation, but my primary focus has been on finalising my first SF novel, which has been a work-in-progress for a very long time. This book, which is intended to be the first in the series, is finally ready to market. Yay!

All in all, 2017 saw a pleasing haul of acceptances and published stories. One acceptance left over from last year was The Last Moonshot. A Scottish SF magazine, Shoreline of Infinity, published that one in September.  This is an excellent magazine, which I urge you all to support.  I have also seen two micro-fiction stories published at Speculative 66 and another at Fifty-Word Stories. The fourth of my flash-length Reeves stories, Delicious Served Cold, appeared at Space Squid. I compiled it and its first predecessors, also a newly-written capstone story, in Reeves Indeed! This ebook is available from all the major on-line stores, incuding Amazon. Talking of ebooks (and print-on-demand ones too), I sold my 1000th this year. That was a nice milestone to reach. However, my most pleasing publication of the year was to see my short SF story One Is One selected for Third Flatiron’s Kurt Vonnegut tribute anthology, Cat’s Breakfast. Vonnegut is one of my favourite authors, so this was a big thrillfor me. The story also appeared in Third Flatron’s end-of-year Best-of ebook. I saw several other stories reprinted, including The English Dead in Quasar 3, which is my first story to be translated into Italian.

You can find lots of links to my free-to-read stories here.

Also of note for this year is that I gave my first-ever talk about my fiction to a local Writer’s Group. The members of the Thurrock Writers’ Circle were very attentive and kind to a rather nervous first-timer. I thoroughly enjoyed the experience and hope to do more of this sort of thing in the future!

I hope to have lots of interesting news to report in 2018. One event to look forward to is a Virtual Futures evening of near-future fiction readings on the theme of “Post-Brain” in May. I’m a co-curator!

Wishing you all a very merry Christmas and a happy New Year!