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?