The Next Big Thing

I’ve been meme-slapped by m’colleague Roger Morris, writer of the Porfiry Petrovich mysteries and other entertainments, including one of my favourite books of a few years back, Taking Comfort. I have to answer ten questions in ten minutes about my current book. It’s very current indeed, as I’m planning to release it on the 21st December.

1) What is the working title of your next book?

The Amber Rooms. I went through a few different titles before I arrived at that one. My favourite was the St Petersburg Paradox (which is a conundrum drawn from probability theory).

2) Where did the idea come from for the book?

I honestly don’t remember. I’ve always wanted to write a novel about Russia, and there are elements of Russia scattered here and there throughout both Déjà Vu and Flashback. I have a feeling that Russia will feature again in future novels, if they’re written.

3) What genre does your book fall under?

It’s science fiction, probably steam punk. Historical science fiction might be a better term. If I actually had time to read anything these days, I’d have a sharper idea of the genre.

4) What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?

Saskia Brandt could be played by Franka Potente, Alexandra Maria Lara, or Olivia Wilde. Kamo: Gael García Bernal. Stalin: Jake Gyllenhaal. Ego: Robert De Niro.

5) What is the one sentence synopsis of your book?

Time traveller Saskia Brandt is trapped in Russia in 1908, trying to get home, but she’s stolen a great deal of money that belongs to the Bolshevik Party. They want it back.

6) Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

It’s self-published.

7) How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?

About nine months, but that the was second or third attempt. I got about 10% into two similar novels before I realised they weren’t working.

8) What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

I can only think of The Man in the High Castle.

9) Who or what inspired you to write this book?

The main character, Saskia.

10) What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

During the story, Saskia stays in a house that is modelled on the St Petersburg home of Prince Felix Yusupov, who conspired to murder Rasputin.

I have to nominate three more people, so how’s about comedy-crime-scifi-horror-nonfic writer Aliya Whiteley, scifi novelist Stephen Sweeney, and technothriller (and now Kindle best-seller) Michael Stephen Fuchs. (Blast, it looks as though Aliya’s already been in the meme-wash. Check out her Next Big Thing here.)

Where Am I? Readers, Progress, and Free Books

The Amber Rooms

This morning, I received an email beginning:

Well, it’s 2.00 in the morning and I’ve just finished your book.

The email made me laugh out loud, and I reflected that it’s considerably easier to write these days in the knowledge that people might want to read the final product.

This correspondent raised an issue. Am I still retired from writing? I thought I’d update this blog with the answer. As usual, I’ll try to avoid obfuscation.

I worked with my agent on an updated version of Déjà Vu over the summer. (With her permission, I used this text to revise to the ebook, so it’s effectively a new edition.) She then sent the book to various publishers. As is now becoming typical, I had positive comments from all of them, but no bites. There’s a small chance that one might come back to us at this point, but I’m not holding my breath.

Tracking my sales is becoming difficult because some income is through Amazon’s lending programme (US-only). As a rough guide, I’ve sold about 16,000 books through the Kindle, and about the same number again (I think) has gone in free promotions.

I’m still writing. My goal is to finish a final draft of The Amber Rooms but the end of October and pass this to my agent. She’s promised to edit it throughout November (though I’ve just realised that I haven’t mentioned the length of the length, which is about double Déjà Vu), and I’d like to release it for Xmas. The picture at the head of this post is the latest version. What do you think?

I heard a statistic a couple of years back that academics top the UK chart for unpaid overtime. Whether or not that’s still true, my writing is very squeezed at the moment. It’s getting harder to sit down at a computer after a day’s work. I’m pretty confident I can finish off The Amber Rooms by then, but there’s a chance it might finish me first.

Under the auspice of Thirst eDitions, a writerly conglomeration and child of Matt F Curran’s brain, I’ve just published a short book that examines some of the philosophical issues that artificial intelligence researchers need to address. It’s written for undergraduate psychologists but the lay reader should enjoy it. If you’re intrigued about the extent to which Saskia Brandt is human, knock yourself out with Down to the Wire: A Short Introduction to Artificial Intelligence.

Finally, I’ve made Déjà Vu, Flashback, and Proper Job free for the next five days. There’s no scheme behind this decision other than the natural cycle of the Kindle promotions mechanism for self-published authors; essentially, you have five days of free offer for every ninety, and I’m still in the business of getting my books read. I’m planning to make them free again at Christmas, partly to coincide with the launch of the Amber Rooms, and partly because it’s Christmas and I want to bring down everyone’s mood with tales of my heroine trapped in time.

The Cabinet of Curiosities

Some centuries ago, it was common for wealthy individuals to indulge their appetite for the strange using so-called cabinets of curiosities. These were not cabinets in the modern sense. They were rooms arranged with artefacts for which categories had yet to be invented. Narwhal horns. Fossils.

There is a sense in which my current novel, The Amber Rooms (Saskia Brandt 3), is a cabinet of curiosities. Even now, I cannot be sure how the elements will cohere. They simply interest me. There is the Amber room itself. There are elements of Soviet propaganda, such as songs dedicated to Josef Stalin. To this list I could add another six or seven elements; however, to do so here would spoil the book.

From Wikipedia:

The juxtaposition of such disparate objects, according to Horst Bredekamp’s analysis (Bredekamp 1995) encouraged comparisons, finding analogies and parallels and favoured the cultural change from a world viewed as static to a dynamic view of endlessly transforming natural history and a historical perspective that led in the seventeenth century to the germs of a scientific view of reality.

I am currently two thirds of the way through the final draft. In six weeks or so, it will be complete. The metaphors at the sentence level, scene level, and the level of the story itself will have come together. Their juxtapositions will be set. It might surprise you that I do not know for sure when this will happen, or even if. What is the book about? How does this quality of ‘aboutness’ inform the plot? Which impressions will be left in the mind of the reader six months after the book is closed?

The curiosities for my novel Déjà Vu made little sense to me at the close of the first draft. It was only later, months later, that I changed the research project of Jennifer Proctor from something interesting but thematically irrelevant to time travel. That was the eureka moment for Déjà Vu. Curiosities, which I had been collecting for years, came together.

For Flashback, the eureka moment arrived early. I was reading a fairytale in which a character cut her finger and fell into a bewitched sleep. Then I understood how the reconstruction of memory unified stories of Saskia, Cory, and Jem.

Right now, whenever I open the file containing the latest draft of the Amber Rooms, I feel like an 18th-century man of independent means browsing his cabinet of curiosities. Why are these things interesting? How should a visitor be introduced to them? What are they doing in this room anyway? Back to the basic question: why are these things interesting?