Ups and Downs

I have a rule with this blog: I don’t write it when I’m annoyed. But here I am, demonstrably annoyed (see below for demonstration), typing away like a good ‘un.

First, the good news. A person whose opinion I hold in high regard, Andy Sawyer (librarian of science fiction at the University of Liverpool), has written a positive review of Déjà Vu for the Alien Online. Judging by previous reviews, Andy isn’t afraid to point out the flaws in a work when he sees them, so his kind words come as a mixture of pleasure and relief. Here are some edited highlights:

An interesting debut novel that successfully blends cyberpunk and technothriller and presents a few good sci-fi ideas along the way. …The scenes set inside the digital world developed by Proctor and his partner Bruce Shimoda are particularly impressive.

…Well worth reading, and suggests that Hocking (whose first novel this is) can create interesting scenarios. There are some inventive and witty AI conceits, and Hocking’s near-future world is neatly extrapolated from ours.’

I also came across a review in a local arts/new publication, The Exeter Flying Post, penned by Richard Anthony. It’s a well-written review and quite insightful. Here are a couple of snippets:

It’s written with screen adaption in mind…

Er, no it isn’t. (Though I do enjoy the odd film.)

…short chapters, rapidly cutting between different strands of the story; lots of action; some violence; plenty of clues and motifs hinting at what is to come, but enough suspense to keep you turning the page.

Mr…

Er, Dr, while you’re there.

…Hocking has an interest in determinism. Even after reading this book, though, I’m not sure where he stands on the issue. This story, however, wriggles out of the problem in a way that somewhat undermines the climax. But I think the author is too good a writer to get trapped in the pgieonhole (black hole?) of hack SF, however well it might pay.

*cough* *splutter* *wipes tea from monitor*

Richard goes on to engage with some of the issues contained within the work, chiefly the determinism, which is gratifying. It certainly speaks to one of the motivations behind my writing: making the reader ponder stuff.

So some aspects of this week have been good. (And let us not forget a nice article about me and my book published in Monday’s Express and Echo.)

But the bad aspects are bundled up in this ‘goodness’. With the reviews tumbling in – first from the Guardian, then the Alien Online, and with a possible review lined up in the biggest-selling scifi mag in the UK – I’m still butting my head senseless against the wall that national book chains have erected to keep out the independent publishers who lack the money to play the ‘big boys’ game’ of the country-wide publishers.

This Saturday morning, a good friend of mine walked into a branch of Waterstone’s in Exeter, which has agreed to stock Déjà Vu (thanks again to Stephen Palmer, Waterstone’s employee and author, who has worked on my behalf to get the ball rolling). My friend found no copies on the shelves. She then queued up for a bit, spoke to an employee, and was told that Déjà Vu doesn’t exist.

That’s right. This book, reviewed in the Guardian, doesn’t exist. It also doesn’t exist on Amazon, Baclkwell’s Online, Play.com, and least of all does it exist on the website of my publisher, the UKA Press, who are a figment of my well-used imagination.

As you can see, I’m not speechless with anger (or perhaps I am; perhaps just my fingers are moving). But I am quite grumpy. I have spent literally hours trudging around Exeter, Truro and other places with a copy of my book. One bookshop in Truro – remains nameless – decided to stock one book after I visited and phoned them several times. One book! When I told the manager my book had been well reviewed in the Guardian that very morning, she laughed and shrugged, as if to say “It’s a crazy, mixed-up world, ain’t it?”

Now, I’m obviously not saying that one review means the world should reward me with the fame and swimming pool of gold bullion I deserve, but I didn’t spend four years writing Déjà Vu to not care what happens to it. With every single additional reader that picks up a copy, writing the book gets a tiny increment more worthwhile. I’m obviously not saying I’m unlucky, either, because (1) getting published required stumbling across a publisher prepared to read the entire manuscript; (2) I was allocated an excellent editor; (3) the improbability of getting Déjà Vu reviewed in the Guardian makes me queasy when I look back upon it – at any one point, things might have fallen through. So I’m not bitter and I’m not feeling cheated. In fact, I’m better off than most people would be in my position. I’ll hold that thought and attempt to improve my mood by shooting people on my Playstation.

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Ian Hocking

Writer and psychologist.

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