Monday, July 21, 2014

Jack Glass

I'd been hearing good things about Adam Roberts' novel Jack Glass for some time, so while I was browsing in a well-known bookstore beginning with 'W' recently, I bought it.

Now, I don't often buy new books, given my habit of haunting secondhand bookstores, and the fact that I work for a publishing company in which it's hard to leave the building without accreting old review copies. So the fact that I bought a brand new copy - and from a bookstore, noch, not from an online retailer - is probably an accolade all by itself.

Thinking about it, though, I remember reading a rave review by my friend B. C. of Swindon, and possibly a similarly rave review in Interzone (indeed, it was reviewed in issue 243 back at the beginning of last year), so there's been quite a buzz about it. These, and the fact that it picked up an award for Best Novel from the British Science Fiction Association, probably prompted me to buy the book rather than replace it on the shelf.

But enough of such japery.

Jack Glass is a deliberately old-fashioned kind of science fiction thriller, which also nods, quite consciously, to a very old-fashioned kind of whodunit. The book contains three locked-room mysteries - no, don't go away, I know that locked-room mysteries have been the hackneyed fodder for mysteries ever since Poe created sleuth August Dupin in the retrospectively dreadful Murders in the Rue Morgue, but Roberts manages the rare feat of telling us that the eponymous criminal mastermind Jack Glass was the murderer in each case, and yet we are still thrilled by Roberts' ingenuity.

One of the reason that the novel works so well is that Jack Glass makes for an appealing antihero - wanted and yet admired, a celebrity who is all but invisible. Everyone likes a lovable villain, whether he's Slippery Jim DiGriz from Harry Harrison's Stainless Steel Rat novels or - perhaps more pertinent here (because old-fashioned) Gulliver Foyle in Alfred Bester's still-amazing 1956 novel The Stars My Destination. Not that Jack Glass is lovable, really - more that he is driven by a higher calling than simple self-enrichment.

Glass is a true revolutionary, working in a Solar System a few centuries hence whose business is controlled by a few super-rich, omni-powerful Clans whose machinations all but ignore the welfare of the trillions of paupers living in the billions of tiny, fragile, space habitats of the interplanetary slum that's The Sump. Roberts has succeeded in creating something genuinely futuristic - that is, more than merely extrapolative - with characters who, while impossibly exotic in many ways, are rounded and believable. The language, too, is gorgeous, a strange but atttractive argot which stands to 20th-century English as our daily converse stands to the English of Shakespeare. (Yes, there is a glossary.)

Futuristic, and anachronistic. The final pages reminded me not so much of Bester or Harrison than Sayers, so much did they resemble the by-play between Harriet Vane and Lord Peter Wimsey.

My favourite read of 2013 was Dark Eden by Chris Beckett - which by complete coincidence is a very old-fashioned kind of SF, in this case, set on a remote planet whose marooned colonists have reverted to the stone age. But there is nothing wrong with old-fashioned, if the story is - as it is, in both books - well told, imaginatively realised, and with characters believable enough that they can take us on their extraordinary journeys. Fashions in storytelling come and go, but it's the good old-fashioned virtues of a good story, well told, that will always win out in the end.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

A Time To Die: A Question for Tolkienists

Mes yeux were caught this week by news from a debate in the UK Houses of Parliament (specifically the House of Lords) about proposed legislation to allow the assisted suicide of terminally ill patients in certain circumstances. Now, I do not propose to discuss the issue itself, except to say that in some religions, suicide is a sin, because it is a wilful negation of the Divine right to give and remove life.

My purpose here is to ask a question of any Tolkienists who might be reading this. The author J. R. R. Tolkien (for it was he) was a devout Catholic and so (presumably) would have regarded suicide as a sin.

And yet, in his legendarium, the Kings of Men (the Numenoreans) were not only granted lives of a length thrice that of ordinary mortals, but also the choice of when to renounce life and die with dignity. It is made clear that as the Numenoreans slowly became enamoured of the dark arts, they clung on to life all the more desperately as their lives shortened.

At the very end of The Lord of the Rings - even in the Appendices - we read in the Tale of Aragorn and Arwen how Aragorn, now the King and one of Tolkien's great heroes, finally lays down his life. Before he does so, he advises a grieving Arwen:

Take counsel with yourself, beloved, and ask whether you would indeed have me wait until I wither and fall from my high seat unmanned and witless. Nay, lady .. to me has been given … the grace to go at my will, and give back the gift.

In Tolkien's world, the freedom to die at one's own wish, with dignity, goes with nobility, courage and valour, and is awarded specifically to those who actively turn away from the darkness.

Now, it's well known that Middle-earth is surprisingly free from religion. Unlike his friend C. S. Lewis did with Narnia, Tolkien quite purposedly stood well away from constructing his legendarium as an allegory. There are occasional glimpses of Christianity in The Lord Of The Rings, but you have to dig for them. However, lack of religion is one thing - turning it on its head quite another.

So how did Tolkien reconcile the renunciation of the gift of life with his own Catholicism?


Wednesday, July 16, 2014

The Guardian's Freudian Slip Is Showing

On the left is a tweet sent by The Guardian, whose account is seen by 2.4 million followers, according to the Jewish Chronicle. The problem is that it's materially wrong.

It implies that the brief ceasefire in Gaza collapsed because Israel resumed its attacks, when what actually happened was that Israel unilaterally adopted a ceasefire that its opponents ignored, so felt compelled to resume its actions to target the launching sites of missiles directed at its territory.

Following immediate complaints, the tweet was taken down and replaced with something closer to the facts, but by then the damage had been done.

My question is why this tweet was released.

It could be that the journalist concerned was actively biased against Israel and was intent on making mischief. Whereas one might have cause to find fault with Israeli policy, telling deliberate lies is more than mischievous - it is malicious, and not really befitting of a serious newspaper. Nor, indeed, any newspaper.

More worrying is that the tweeter had no such intention and had meant to be unbiased, but the form of words was such to create an anti-Israel impression. After all, Twitter, as I know from personal experience, is a difficult medium in which to convey complex issues, something akin to Monty Python's summarise-Proust-in-fifteen-seconds competition. What came out was an unintended and easily misconstrued distillation of the tweeter's view, something which might be filed as 'unconscious' bias.

But we may never know. I have not been able to find any comment on this twitter mishap from the Guardian itself. Please tell me if you can find it. I suspect you'd need patience and a microscope.

The problem is that the Grauniad has form in this area, and carries a persistent whiff of anti-Israel bias (and possibly anti-Semitism) in its coverage, something which I have myself experienced in interactions with the newspaper.

This happened when the Grauniad publicised a proposed scientific boycott of Israel. I wrote, privately, to a prominent member of the boycotters - Professor Patrick Bateson, FRS, and Chair of Zoology at the University of Cambridge, the department in which I did my PhD. Even though the email exchange was private, Professor Bateson saw fit to discuss it with a Guardian journalist called Andy Beckett who printed some of it in such a way to draw attention to my own Jewishness. You can read the whole tedious exegesis here.

Naturally I complained. The Editor didn't reply to my letter. I got a weaselly note of self-justification from Andy Beckett. Luckily I had friends at the Grauniad, and one was Tim Radford, their longtime science correspondent, who took up the cudgels on my behalf. He took my complaint to the Grauniad's Reader Ombudsman who found in my favour, and printed an apology in tiny print in a subsequent issue, to the extent of an admission that it shouldn't have printed my private correspondence without my knowledge or consent. But by then, as with the tweet, the damage had been done.

For detailed blow-by-blow updates on the current situation, you could do a lot worse than follow the online feed, in English, from the Israeli newspaper Ha'Aretz, a left-of-centre publication whose coverage seems uncoloured and balanced.

The BBC is doing its best, but tends to act as the broadcast arm of the Guardian, and until it releases the Balen Report cannot really be trusted, in my view. The report, commissioned following complaints of a persistent anti-Israel agenda at the BBC, has been seen by very few, yet rumours circulate that it confirmed anti-Israel bias at the BBC. My feeling is that if the BBC feels that it has nothing to hide, and that such rumours are wrong, it should publish the report and have done. Needless to say the story on the Guardian's mischievous tweet hasn't been aired on the BBC, as far as I am aware.

Disclaimer No. 1. I actually quite like The Guardian. Some of my best friends are Guardian readers. I read it myself. I have even written for it. But I don't inhale.

Disclaimer No. 2. Crox Minor is currently on an organised tour in Israel. The rest of us Croxii are worried shitless. Misleading reporting by newspapers such as The Guardian is unhelpful at best, cruel at worst.

Remembering Jon

Today (16 July) marks two years since the passing of Jon Lord (1941-2012), founding member of the influential beat combo Deep Purple, a considerable composer in his own right, and perhaps my most important inspiration as a musician.

I can still remember the time I first became aware of his playing. It was the haunting Hammond organ that introduces the ballad Child In Time on the album Deep Purple In Rock (1970). It was the common room in School House in Sevenoaks School in Kent. It was 1975, or maybe 1976. "You've got to hear this!" said my friend Zak Choudhury, putting the disc on the turntable.

We were fourteen.

I have never gotten over it, and I never will. To commemorate Jon Lord my playlist today will be wall-to-wall Jon Lord and Deep Purple. If I had a Purple armband I'd wear it. But perhaps my memorial is best as it is: ongoing, musical and constant. I play Purple in my rock covers band Stealer, in which, in memory of the late Mr Lord, the sound of a heavily overdriven Hammond organ is front and centre.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Accidental Plaudits

Am thrilled to discover that The Accidental Species has been selected as an 'outstanding' title' by the American Association of University Presses (AAUP). It was one of the many titles which received ratings of "Outstanding" (O) by members of the 2013 University Press Books Committee.

'Outstanding' titles are defined as 'having exceptional editorial content and subject matter. They are essential additions to most library collections.'

Of The Accidental Species, Stacey Hayman writes
Be prepared to reconsider standard ideas of human evolution after encountering the well-reasoned and supported arguments set forth by Henry Gee. The slim size and engaging cover will encourage readers to take a look inside where they will find themselves hooked by a sense of humor, and an easy to read writing style.

Whoop whoop!

Monday, July 7, 2014

The 'Meet My Character' Blog Tour

This is a companion piece, kind of, to the 'Writing Process' blog tour, and once again my card has been marked by SF writer, mezzo soprano, poet, gardening nut and friend Sarah Potter, who describes her own character here. I'm privileged to have read the as-yet-unpublished work in which her character features, and so can say with confidence that each and every one of her characters really does live and breathe.

I expect that Sarah would want me to introduce my character Detective Inspector Persephone Sheepwool, the reserved, surrealist-art-loving protagonist of my novel By The Sea. Except that I'm going to throw a curveball and talk instead about a completely different character, the one who featured in my first novel The Sigil, and for me completely came alive on the page right before my eyes, as if I were watching someone else's drama unfurl as I was writing it. I know, I know, it sounds awfully pretentious, and when I heard estabished authors discussing this phenomenon I always muttered something under my breath of the 'load of old cobblers' variety. Until it happened to me.

I wanted to do many things with The Sigil (probably far too many) and one of the first was to describe a marriage from its beginning to its end, over the course of fifty years. Another was to describe the career of a Catholic priest from the novitiate to the Papacy, a conceit lifted shamelessly from Earthly Powers by Anthony Burgess, which has perhaps one of the best first sentences of any book ever written, ever - 
It was the afternoon of my eighty-first birthday, and I was in bed with my catamite when Ali announced that the archbishop had come to see me.

But I digress.

In what follows I'll be - of necessity - giving things away about The Sigil which, if you haven't read it, might be regarded as spoilers, but I reveal them in the hope that they might prompt you to read the book rather than avoid it. Kristen Lamb writes that to get a reader engaged you have to sum up your book in one sentence, so here's mine.

The Universe is dying from within. A young woman is given the task of stopping the rot. If only she knew where to begin.

Oh, heck. That's three sentences. But they are, in my defence, quite short. More than that, they need to be qualified: the young woman is in fact an alien of almost godlike power. But even gods can be plagued with self-doubt. And if you are going to get down and dirty with the natives, your success might come at the cost of wilfully forgetting your own origins. That's not, however, how The Sigil began.

What is the name of your character?

Her name is Jadis Markham, a gangly eighteen-year-old undergraduate.

When and where is the story set?

The setting is Cambridge, and, later, southern France, sometime in the near future. We first meet Jadis when she finds herself - quite literally, finds herself - in the class of Jack Corstorphine, a postgraduate student working on how early humans modified the landscape.

Jack's problem is that his gift is entirely intuitive. He is unable to quantify the shapes he sees in river bends and hill slopes. Jadis Markham, however, has an analytical brain that complements Jack's intuition. Setting up home in southern France, they find that the landscape of Europe had been modified by humans (and other people) for millions upon millions of years. During their researches they find an artefact - the Sigil of the title - whose origin is utterly mysterious and whose discovery they keep secret. But world events move on, and over the ensuing decades Jadis, Jack and their circle of friends and colleagues (including the Catholic priest above mentioned) become enmeshed in a series of astonishing, even apocalyptic events.

What should we know about her?

Jadis sees herself as a person who was essentially floating, a more or less incoherent mess of limbs and baggy charity-shop clothing, until she meets Jack. Thereafter she sees herself as the practical, organised half of a couple, complementing Jack's airiness. It is she who actually runs their archaeological field program while he tramps off into the wilderness for weeks on end, surveying. Inside, though, she is insecure. She feels that without Jack she'd simply float away like a soap bubble. Although essentially a kind, generous person at heart, she gets more taciturn and crabby with age. She always wears her hair very long, and as deep black turns to white, she becomes the white witch her name suggests, and yet cannot understand the votive offerings left by villagers at her front door. (Jack, who has more imagination, knows precisely what they are, and why they have been left.)

Well, that's how The Sigil was before I brought the back-story front and centre and made a 125,000-word draft into a 260,000-word trilogy. I felt I had told but not shown. What was the Sigil, and why? How did it get to its final location? Who brought it there? How and why was the Earth crowded with civilizations dating back millions, even tens of millions of years?

It turns out, you see, that Jadis is a human avatar of Merlin, a member of an alien race called the Drovers, whose historic task is to herd vast whale-like beasts called the Drove through space. Drove and Drovers alike are made from wrinkles in space-time and therefore not tied to our own, linear way of looking at the world - though the Drove are much larger (and much less intelligent) than the Drovers.

The Elders among the Drovers, however, have found a problem. Because of the way the Universe has been made, the Drove will eventually overwhelm the Drovers, break loose and consume the Universe. The only way to stop them doing this is to conceive of a way to destroy them. The Elders have identified Merlin as the one among their number with the youth, bravery and brains to come up with a plan. Sixty-six million years ago, the Elders give Merlin her xenocidal task, their choice based only on the hunch of one of them, Solomon, that Merlin is the right choice.

The rest of the back story follows Merlin's various machinations as, in various forms and under various names, she guides the evolution of sundry primate species into something which could, possibly, destroy something as mighty as the Drove. The first of these is a star-faring species, akin to lemurs but convergent in many ways with the human form, which rules the Galaxy from Earth some fifty-five million years ago (an idea I borrowed from Olaf Stapledon's Last and First Men.) But this species is destined to decay, and other species - guided inexpertly by Merlin (for who can really guide evolution?) come to the fore. To help her, Merlin takes a hapless member of this lemuroid race, a soldier called Ruxhana Fengen Kraa, and 'breaks' him - making him, in effect, immortal. So we follow his life, too, for the next several tens of millions of years.

It's perhaps not too much of a spoiler to say that Jadis is Merlin, living an entire life as a human woman to witness the events she herself set in train millions of years earlier, but quite unaware that she was herself the instigator. I asked myself a question - if you were a godlike entity sent to Earth to bear witness, how much of your godliness would you leave behind? If you knew your former power, or could manifest it, would it in some way defeat the object of your mission? If Christ were to come to Earth, would he know himself for what he was? If he did know, would this distort, somehow, the workings of the Universe?

It is the Catholic priest, Domingo, who has the answer, or something like it. At the end of book two, Scourge of Stars, he says that God must have given us all free will, for although he might have a plan for working out the Universe, to determine all our individual fates would be cheating. It would be like - he says - 'throwing his own game'. And what would be the point of that? Of all the characters in the novel, even Jack, it is Domingo who sees Jadis as something other than human, but, because of his own deeply held religious convictions, he interprets this as some heaven-sent sainthood.

More important, though, is Merlin's own feeling of inadequacy. Even with powers to travel in time and space, and to perform what we humans would regard as miracles, she makes mistakes. She is plagued with insecurity, worried about the lives she seems so wilfully to be creating and destroying, and forever remorseful that what she is making is, in the end, a mess. Even gods are allowed to have Imposter Syndrome, and as Schiller once said - against stupidity the gods themselves struggle in vain.

It's interesting to see one's work through another's eyes, and I was drawn to a review of the first book, Siege of StarsIn the review, Galen Strickland contrasts the lovingkindness of Jadis with the often seemingly very cruel behaviour of Merlin - and he's right. But it's a difference for which Merlin is herself always apologising.

I should note, however, that I am not a religious person, in the sense that I do not believe in some over-arching supernatural spiritual guide to either the fate of the Universe or of the individuals within it. It is always a great mistake to conflate, necessarily, the characters of a novel with the will or beliefs of the author, and it would therefore be a mistake to read anything about my own beliefs or attitudes from The Sigil. So I shall state it here quite clearly - The Sigil is not written as any kind of religious allegory or apologia. I'm not trying to do a C. S. Lewis on you.

However, just because I describe myself as an atheist (Jewish Section) doesn't mean that I don't find religion - its history, its attitudes, its practices and its rationale - endlessly fascinating. As anyone who reads the news will tell you, religion is one of the things that drives people, perhaps more than anything else, including money and sex. So it is worth exploring, in fiction, what religion means and implies.

In a way, then, The Sigil is all about religion. But it's also all about what it might be like to 'play God', and how any reasonable sentient being who is offered that chance or choice would find the burden almost insupportable, and the more power they could natively wield, the more burdensome it would become.

As with the previous post on the writing process, the time has come for tagging. As last time, the game has no rules - those I have tagged are under no obligation to take up the baton, and if they feel they'd like to, there's no deadline. I nominate them, really, because they are authors who have been very kind to me, either as I have been writing, or afterwards, or both. I salute them all.

They are --

Susan Lanigan - novelist and writer of short stories, who was there for me.

Brenda Cooper - novelist, futurist and public speaker who lives in Kirkland, Oregon, who wrote a very kind review of The Sigil.

Jennifer L Rohn - a working scientist, novelistblogger and campaigner for British science. Jenny read and commented on one or possibly more early drafts of The Sigil, and who first published my novel By The Sea as a serial on her website, LabLit. I owe her a great deal.

Friday, July 4, 2014

The Writing Process Blog Tour

My friend Sarah Potter has kindly tagged me to take part in this Caucus Race. Sarah, whose online home is here, describes herself as an author of speculative fiction, SF and fantasy; a haiku and tanka poet, a mezzo-soprano, a novice photographer, nature lover and 'allotment freak'. She's recently completed a very creative and exciting dystopian novel which isn't published yet, but which I've had the privilege of reading, and if I told you any more I'd have to turn you into a newt.

What Am I Working On?

Nothing. And it's GLORIOUS. Ever since I completed my Ph. D. back in the late 1980s I have been working on one kind of book or another, and at present I find myself with no deadlines; no work-in-progress; no guilt niggling away at my brain at the fact that I have yet to sharpen my pencil or get my desk in order to write something new.

Well, actually, that's not quite true. I have begun to plot a mystery novel, a sequel to By The Sea, my gothick novel with detectives, but I am currently attending a course in procrastination which will be prolonged, I expect, by downloading Scrivener to help me organise a rapidly expanding blast wave of ballpoint-written notes in an old-fashioned notebook. It's got to the point where I can no longer keep all the characters, timelines, motives and opportunities in my head at once, and although I know that it was Professor Trellis of North Wales Professor Plum in the Drawing Room Laboratory with the Lead Piping Large Hadron Collider, the events leading up to that inevitable dénouement are increasingly confused.

I also have to find a few floorplans for real-life crumbling Victorian villas, mansions and hotels which I can use to help anchor some of the action. I have recurrent dreams of very creepy interiors, some of which I can use in the novel. I have tried to expiate some of these dreams in short fiction but it hasn't worked.

The projected novel, whose working title this week is Fruiting Bodies, will be extremely disturbing, and I am currently scaring myself shitless getting into the mood by reading a vast compendium of weird fiction called, appropriately, The Weird.

For now, though, I am enjoying the summer, and sunshine isn't really conducive to the writing of weird fiction, in the same way - as the late, great Jon Lord said in an interview I read once, possibly in Keyboard magazine - that rock'n'roll doesn't really begin much before teatime. Perhaps, though, when the sun begins to set ever sooner and the long and chilly fingers of night extend their mournful claws across autumnal lawns; when the swallows disappear and the darkened woods fill with the pungent reek of mould ...

How Does My Work Differ From Others In Its Genre?

I write all sorts of things, in all sorts of genres. Most of my books are what you'd call popular science, though I have say some are more popular than others, and they concentrate on evolution and the fossil record, by and large. My latest work in that genre, The Accidental Species: Misunderestimations of Human Evolution, is proving moderately popular as such things go.

I'd been writing professionally for fifteen years or so when I decided that I couldn't call myself a writer unless I'd written some fiction. That's when I sat down to write the first draft of what eventually turned into The Sigil. This is a science fiction epic of, I guess, fairly traditional stripe, which has been described (not by me) as 'wide-screen baroque'. After that my agent suggested I write what she called a 'puzzle book' but what came out was By The Sea, in which I tried to do for Cromer (where I live) what Stephen King did for Maine. Although it has detectives in it I am not sure whether it's really a detective novel as, first, I have no idea how to write a police procedural; second, I am not sure whether any crimes have been committed which the detectives are capable of solving; and, third, it's a lot weirder than most detective novels I've read. So, I guess it differs from many genres while combining several - horror, gothic, mystery and SF.

The plan for Fruiting Bodies is to have a more coherent and concrete plot than By The Sea, making it more of a conventional mystery, although it will be fairly gothic in some ways and will include several characters from that novel, especially Detective Inspector Persephone Sheepwool and her redoubtable helpmeet Detective Sergeant Elaine Fitch.

Why Do I Write What I Do?

Because I can't help it. Writing is a compulsion. It's an addiction. Even though I am not actively writing a book, I am writing this blog. I write a lot at work. As I am now old enough not to be ashamed of giving advice to younger people, I can say this: if you want to be a writer, you have to write every day. You might have a natural talent, but any such talent will always improve with practice, whether it's mastering the piano, learning to play football, or writing. If you count my doctorate thesis as a book, this is the first break I've had from book-writing for thirty years.

How Does My Writing Process Work?

The processes of writing are as numerous as there are writers - more so, because different kinds of writing demand different processes. Each one of my books has demanded a different approach.

Popular science books always start with a synopsis. This is a detailed summary of the book - first all at once; then all at once, but in more detail; and then chapter by chapter - and though it sounds easy, it is in fact hellish agony. The synopsis for The Accidental Species took years and the final version ran to almost 20,000 words - more than a quarter the length of the final book. A detailed synopsis, though, is as vital to a popular science book as a detailed road map is to a journey. Not only do you have to know where you'll end up, but you need to know the most efficient and logical way to get there. But even the most detailed maps can't include all the traps and snares you might find 'on the ground', as it were, which is why you need the most detailed and well-researched synopsis you can provide.

I get down to writing the draft of the book once the synopsis has been approved by my agent and sold to a publisher. I can usually manage 25,000 words or so by scribbling in the evenings or at weekends and in spare hours here and there, but after that I find it increasingly difficult to hold it all in my head at once. That's when I take a couple of weeks off and work at it full time - sometimes at home, often elsewhere, such as a research library - hoping to get beyond 50,000 words or so. This is what I call 'breaking' the book. I approach this with the discipline of a job, with regular hours and a set lunch break. That's why it's good to commute to a writing location rather than doing it all from home. In contrast, I've found that a dedicated writer's retreat just doesn't work for me. I always get anxious about what's going on back home.

After the 'breaking' phase, topping out the draft to the required 70,000-80,000 words is relatively easy.

A couple of non-fiction books, though, happened more or less painlessly. The Science of Middle-earth grew out of a series of essays I'd been writing for a website, TheOneRing.net. Another, A Field Guide to Dinosaurs, was more a journalistic assignment than a book, in which a book packager put me together in a room with some book designers and the incomparable Luis V Rey - dinosaur artist, surrealist painter and Hammer of the Gods - to create a new kind of dinosaur book. I wrote both of these in a few months at most, while finishing the draft of Jacob's Ladder, and my recollection is that they were both pure pleasure from beginning to end.

The collaborative nature of A Field Guide to Dinosaurs was a particular joy, putting to rest the idea that books are necessarily wrought in agony by solitary minds. Being part of a team effort was very rewarding, as was the nature of the work - much faster and more deadline-driven than I'm used to as a writer, though something to which I'm accustomed as a journalist.

So, as you can see, my method of working tends to vary with the project. The same appears to be true for fiction, though it could be that I simply haven't had enough experience of fiction to establish a routine. My very infrequent short stories are best (at least in my opinion) when written all at once, or in only two or three sessions, and sent off without a second look. My personal favourite is Black Shuck, published in the anthology Looking Landwards, which came together in three sessions spread over a week or so, and published pretty much as I wrote it. Stories which seem troublesome to write are probably equally troublesome to read, and in my experience are best abandoned.

My first novel was The Sigil. After some time spent roughly scoping out a plot and trying a few scenes, I wrote the first draft at home (and while on holiday) in three months of adrenalised frenzy. Of course, like any novice novelist I thought that was that, and publication would soon follow. Little did I know that the first draft was just the start - five or six years of additions, major revisions and changes-of-mind happened before it was properly published.

My next novel was By The Sea which I wrote as a weekly serial, and - as I recall - entirely on trains. Hence my current procrastination about Fruiting Bodies. Without a regular routine, I'm just not at all sure where or how I'll write it. I've got so far with a plot - but no further - on trains. Shall I write the rest at home? In the shed at the bottom of the garden? In our caravan? I expect it'll be a combination of all these. Time will tell.

Now, the time has come for tagging. As far as I am aware, this game has no rules - those I have tagged (and I have done so with their permission) are under no obligation to take up the baton, and if they feel they'd like to, there's no deadline. I nominate them, really, because they are authors who have been very kind to me, either as I have been writing, or afterwards, or both. I salute them all.

They are --

Brenda Cooper is a novelist, futurist and public speaker who lives in Kirkland, Oregon, and wrote a very kind review of The Sigil.

Peter Watts is a multi-award-winning Canadian author of hard SF, and offered much encouragement when The Sigil was in its embryonic stages, for which I shall always be grateful. You can read his contribution here (it's a hoot.)

Ian Whates is an English SF author and - not only that - publisher. I am proud to say that two of my stories have been published in anthologies he's edited.

Jennifer L Rohn is a working scientist, novelist, blogger and campaigner for British science. Her campaign Science Is Vital did what few other campaigns manage - change government policy. An advocate and pioneer of LabLit - fiction depicting how scientists behave in real life - her two novels, Experimental Heart and The Honest Look, are thrillers centred on the scientific life, and a third is waiting in the wings. It was Jenny who first published By The Sea on LabLit, in serial form and I owe her a great deal.