I’ve just heard from Troubador that No Direction Home is now available for pre-order from Amazon and Apple, which is pretty rapid footwork from them considering that I only signed the contract with them on October 13th. In that time, they’ve put together a cover, set it up for ebook publishing and arranged for it to be added to the lists of probably the two leading ebook retailers – respect, Troubador!
Finally getting the process of publishing No Direction Home under way – I’ve decided to go with Troubador (and yes, that is the correct spelling) after weighing up all the options. It’s due out on the 25th November (just in time for the Christmas rush – ha ha), but it’s already up on their website here (less than 24 hours after I signed the contract) and there’s an entry for it on Goodreads as well.
Time to start sending off submissions for No Direction Home to literary agents, after drawing up a short list of about half a dozen agents/agencies who are looking for new authors and are prepared to consider SF submissions. The reason for the delay (as always) was more fine tuning and revamping until I felt like Oscar Wilde spending the morning putting in a comma and the afternoon taking it out again (or maybe it was the other way round). Realistically, the damn thing’s finished so it’s time to test the water…
I’ve decided to try and find an agent for the new book (No Direction Home) because I’m hoping that I can do more with it than self-publish in ebook form. I didn’t use that approach with the ebooks that were published last year because they had either already been published in print form (many moons ago, admittedly) or had been offered to publishers in the past without success – this is the first completely new book I’ve written for years, so I’ve decided to give it a chance to take off.
Why haven’t I written anything recently? Basically, my job – Head Of Media at a large comprehensive school – didn’t really allow me the same amount of time for writing as before, but now that I’ve retired, I can focus on writing once more.
Why SF, when, so far, I’ve concentrated on spy thrillers? Not quite so easy to answer, although I’ve always been interested in the genre, but, to be honest, I had a distinct feeling of ‘been there, done that’ with thrillers. I even felt that way when it came to planning another Cormack and Woodward novel (and they’re selling better than all the others put together), so I thought that maybe it was time for a change, even if it was only temporary. There was also the consideration that I had a Science Fiction idea that I was enthusiastic about and I had always wanted to write SF, so why not?
Anyway, finding an agent… Not so simple. The agent who had represented me for the Walker books is based in the USA and we parted company some time ago (partly as a result of me not writing anything, to be honest), while Dorothy Lumley, who offered to represent me some years ago, has since sadly passed away, so I’m starting from scratch, really. I’ve accessed Agent Hunter and drawn up a list of (hopefully) suitable agents who might be interested, so it’s a case of writing a synopsis and a cover letter before sending them off with the first three chapters.
Then, of course, waiting for the rejection slips… Just like old times, really.
This is a whole new departure for me – a Science Fiction novel. It’s a genre that I’ve been reading ever since my teens, when the likes of Arthur C Clarke and Isaac Asimov hooked me almost immediately, followed by the likes of Larry Niven and Frederik Pohl. More recently, there’s been Iain M Banks (RIP), Alastair Reynolds and William Gibson – and there is no way that No Direction Home is in that sort of class, but I’ve enjoyed writing it, all the same.
It’s set in interstellar space, aboard a starship that is travelling towards Delta Pavonis (a star just under twenty light years away) on a journey that will take over three hundred years, with two thousand colonists aboard, frozen in cryogenic chambers – there are no wormholes in space or warp drives, or even alien monsters, unless you count the central character, who is not fully human. Vinter is a clone, given cyborg augmentation while being ‘grown’ and with a set of memories that belong to the man who should have been aboard but who was confined to a wheelchair following a terrorist bomb incident. (And, yes, I know I used the name Vinter for The Cromwell Exercise, but as that book has long since been consigned to history, I decided to use it here instead.)
Without giving too much away, the plot involves Vinter having to deal with two sets of conflicting memories that he has been given at different stages in his ‘growth’, as well as, ultimately, fighting another clone of himself; he also has to come to terms with the fact that the wife and daughter that he remembers vividly are still on Earth. Worse than that, he is aware that he – this version of himself – never actually knew them at all… In many ways, the novel is less a SF/action story than exploring the reactions of someone who realises that he is an artificial construct who is essentially alone in his universe and probably always will be.
I like it, anyway… But now I’ve decided to try and find an agent, because, hopefully, I can do more than simply self-publishing it in ebook format. Worth a try, anyway?
I really have been neglecting this blog for the last eighteen months – I’ve only just put out some posts that have been sitting on the shelf in draft form since last year. The only justification I can offer (apart from simple bone idleness on my part) is that they were about ideas or projects that never got off the ground, so there didn’t seem much point. However, I’m making an early New Year Resolution (now that I’m actually in the final stages of completing a new novel) that I’m going to be more diligent in my approach to the blog.
As more than one of my characters would say: Yeah, right…
I did have another look at Phoenix in the end, and rewrote at least half of it, coming up with a starting point involving illegal arms sales to Argentina during the Falklands War, with a revenge motive dating from there that enabled me to set it during the present day – and I’m still not happy with it, because there remains a huge plot hole that just won’t go away. This time, I think it’s final – the basic idea has been kicking around for over thirty years now and, despite everything, it refuses to gel (even though there’s only one sequence left from the original manuscript now), so it probably never will. It’s been a case of trying to fit an overall story onto existing sequences rather than the story coming first (which, when you think about it, should be how it works). Again, another one to put down to experience (although it’s taken long enough for it to sink in).
This post should really have been published a year or so ago – better late than never!
I’ve been looking at Phoenix (again!) and I’ve decided not to release it after all – I have far too many reservations about it. The mere fact that it’s been kicking around for thirty years or so without ever being sent to a publisher indicates that there’s probably something intrinsically wrong with it and I’ve decided that this is indeed the case; it’s not enough simply to inflict it on the reading public simply because I can…
OK, so what’s wrong with it? Actually, there’s quite a lot, to be honest.
The original version of Phoenix was actually the third book that I completed, but it sat on the shelf while other, better, books came and went. The story was based on the salvage operation that was carried out on HMS Edinburgh in 1981. The Edinburgh was sunk in the Barents Sea in 1942, when she had been carrying 465 gold ingots, payment for Allied supplies by the Soviet Government; by 1981, the gold was worth around £43 million. While the salvage operation was being set up, the thought occurred to me… what if there was no gold in the wreck, but lead bars? So Phoenix was born. HMS Edinburgh became the fictitious cruiser HMS Bristol and the year changed to 1944, but the starting point was the same – a Royal Navy cruiser being sunk in the Arctic carrying gold bars – but the gold had never been loaded in the first place. It had already been stolen – but by whom?
The main story would have to take place in the present day and would feature Michael Rankin, the son of an officer who was drowned when the Bristol was sunk. He owns the company that has gained the salvage rights to the gold, but he soon discovers that someone is trying to kill him; gradually, he uncovers the real story of what happened in 1944 – but what is he going to do with the information?
The original version had a pretty far-fetched finale, featuring an aerial assault on a salvage ship and an underwater duel between two mini-subs in order to prevent the cruiser’s wreck being vapourised by a nuclear device – the book also had a detailed account as to how the uranium for the device was stolen, which, in all probability, would not have been remotely possible in the real world (at least, I hope it isn’t – if it were actually that easy, then we really do have problems). The SIS were involved as well, along with the KGB, not to mention Phoenix itself, a global conspiracy that dated back to before the War, rather like the Illuminati… it was a heady mix, but, ultimately, even I had a job believing the story being told. The characters were stereotypical, to say the least; Rankin was an ex-Falklands War vet, who’d served with the SBS, so was an expert in both armed and unarmed combat, while the femme fatale villainess (whose role was signalled from her first appearance) was a masochist’s wet dream, the ultimate dominatrix. Not to mention plot holes galore… Phoenix went on to the back burner and, as time went by, became outdated in that the story more or less had to take place in the 1990s in order for Rankin to still be young enough to be a plausible action hero (i.e. he would be 50 in 1994).
However, it was extensively rewritten in the 1990s, with a far less preposterous denouement, but still did not quite measure up and so it remained on the shelf until I came to revisit the books with a mind to converting them to ebooks. Phoenix obviously could not be set in 2010 (Rankin would be 66 by then) and so was ignored to begin with, but when I came to re-read it, I realised that it was better than I remembered (telling the story from Rankin’s viewpoint seemed to work pretty well and there was a better romantic sub-plot involved than before) and so I added it to the list of books that I intended to release. However, having looked at it yet again, I still can’t get my head around the implausibility of the theft in the first place, or that there would be very little evidence linking Phoenix to it in any case, so why bother trying to prevent Rankin salvaging the wreck when the most likely suspects for the theft would then be the Russians rather than a shadowy conspiracy that nobody knew existed anyway? Basically, the overall starting point (the actual theft of the gold) still doesn’t work – and probably never will, unfortunately. Take away that starting point and, basically, the whole thing needs to be started again from scratch. Maybe I will, some day… but maybe not.