Monday, March 26, 2012

Reviews are in the post

Over the weekend, uncorrected proofs of the book began plopping through letterboxes to land with a meaty thud on the hallway carpets, soaked with the blood of gutted authors, of journalists and reviewers across the UK.

This means that in the coming weeks I can expect to get an idea of how the critics are going to receive the book. You can perhaps tell from my opening sentence that I am feeling a little nervous. I probably shouldn't be as worried as I am, since hundreds of people read the novel and liked it in the process of winning the Pratchett award, so at least some people are going to have positive things to say.

My wife tells me I am typically Scottish, in that my idea of a happy ending is one in which not quite everybody dies horribly. For example, we have argued down the years about this short story I wrote for Chapman magazine many moons ago. I still maintain it ends happily, while Nats says it is completely miserable.

On the book front, the fact that the title and cover have been well received, in fact building up some excitement, has made me even more concerned. A more optimistic person would be very happy about this, but instead I am fretting that increased expectations = harsher judgements = worse reviews. Perhaps my wife is right, and I am just a miserable git.

I take some solace in this quote from Anne Enright: "Only bad writers think that their work is really good."

Of course, I could actually be a bad writer with a realistic assessment of his own work rather than a good writer being too hard on himself. The problem is that when you have poured hundreds of hours into creating something, it is impossible to objectively judge its worth. Step in the critics and public.

Anyway, my Glaswegian outlook on life probably explains why I am expecting the worst. Nats (who grew up in Cumbernauld and should therefore be even more negative) is the opposite. I guess we'll find out soon enough who has the most realistic view.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

One book, 17 countries

As far as I can tell, the English-language hardcover of Apocalypse Cow will be on sale in the following 17 countries from May 10, either through local booksellers or the respective versions of Amazon.

South Africa
New Zealand
Czech Republic

Not a bad start!

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Forcing myself to plan for next book

I have never been a planner, in life or in work. I tend to take things as they come and give in to my ideas and impulses. So far, it has worked out pretty well for me. However, right now I’m frightening the life out of my wife Nats with my flip charts, outlines and moveable post-it pads. The reason for all this uncharacteristic organization is that the novel I’m working on is turning out to be rather complicated.

The plot started out pretty simple, with no fantasy element to it. I had a brainwave, however, which has created a wider overarching theme involving heaven and hell’s battle for humanity’s soul through music. Now it has three main characters all coming together: a minor demon trying to prove himself to the head bummer, a washed-up rock star desperate to hit the big time again and a failed talent show contestant with some strange ideas about what it will take to become famous.

This makes for a better book, but it is far harder to keep track of all the different interwoven threads. So, I’ve had to throw aside my shambolic nature and become a planner. With Apocalypse Cow, the idea just came to me and I ran with it. The plot evolved naturally as I went along, and I never felt I needed anything beyond a basic outline that I modified as I saw fit. I have an outline for the current book, tentatively titled Wannabes, and 45,000 words in the bag. But over the last few weeks I’ve been unable to move forward as I am struggling to figure out exactly what goes where and in which order.

Enter the flip-chart. I now have a large piece of paper, a bunch of scenes on small pieces of paper and a stick of paper glue. I am going to spend the next few days shuffling all the scenes around until it makes sense in my head, then I’m going to stick those babies down and go for it. I’m hoping this will give me a clear run at the first draft, which should take another 2-3 months. After that, I will add meat to the bones and compulsively edit until somebody tells me to stop.

I hope to have this book completely done by the end of the year, other commitments to family, work and Apocalypse Cow permitting. Wish me luck!

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Baby number three has arrived - sort of

My third baby arrived yesterday, and I'm very happy I didn't have to deliver this one on the bathroom floor, as happened with our son in December. It's a premature birth of sorts, since the baby in question is my book, which has been delivered in uncorrected proof form. For those who don't know, this is a bound copy of the book for review purposes. Typos and some small changes to the text (taking out a bunch of said-bookisms that slipped through, for example) have yet to be made, but it is so close to the final text to make little difference.

I am aware it is slightly tragic to take a picture of the books in the baby hammock, but this particular baby took a lot longer to create than the last two (hundreds of hours vs 30 magnificent seconds), and so deserves at least as much love. I've been working toward this dream of being a published author for years, so I'm sure you can forgive my excitement.

We aren't there yet. It's rather like climbing a mountain and reaching a plateau near the top only to see another peak ahead. The foreword by Terry Pratchett, dedications, author bio and acknowledgements are all missing from the text, but the end is now in sight, and to actually have something in my hand that looks like a book feels wonderful.

The cover was exactly as I expected, and looks very striking, but I was also pleased with the spine, which looks very funky, and the prominent quote from Sir Terry on the back, saying the book made him 'snort with laughter'. Even if the book bombs, knowing I made the man considered one of Britain's foremost humorists laugh gives me a sense of achievement that will remain with me for the rest of my life.

These uncorrected proofs will be going out to reviewers, so I can expect to start getting a feel for what others think very shortly. Yes, I am nervous, but I remain hopeful it will get a positive response. Fingers, toes and other crossables are all firmly crossed.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Things Fall Apart

I’m shamelessly borrowing the title of Chinua Achebe’s classic novel because it so aptly describes the way I’ve been feeling recently. This isn’t about relationships and your role in the community disintegrating. Rather, it’s about how recently I’ve been very aware of how fragile the human world is.

I’ve just finished The Day of the Triffids, in which nature quickly swallows up mankind’s infrastructure following the blinding of much of the human race. This idea is mirrored on a smaller scale in our flat, which is falling apart. We have leaks, problems with the water mains, power cuts, tiles that keep coming up, cupboard doors that keep falling off, phones that won’t be fixed no matter how much I tinker, toys that break, buttons falling off dresses, alarming gaping holes in the groin area of jeans (mine, so don’t get too excited) and countless other little niggles.

I’ve been spending a lot of my time running around after lots of the little things, but I’ve discovered owning a toolkit doesn’t automatically turn you into a handyman. I’m considering experimenting to see how quickly things would fall apart if I stopped my ham-fisted maintenance attempts. I wonder if Nats will accept me sitting very still on the sofa for a week to see if vines start to grow up my legs. Probably not, since she has roped me into doing this Insanity fitness programme, which has also made me understand how frail the body is. Quite frankly, a daily diet of push-ups, suicide jumps and jacks is making me feel older than my 41 years rather than turning back the clock.

Anyway, the point of this waffle is to share some links to pictures of abandoned cities and urban areas, which I came across while researching my current novel.

Weburbanist has stunning pictures of places such as the Kowloon Walled City outside Hong Kong, Oradour Sur-Glane in France and Kolmanskop in Namibia, where sand has filled up derelict buildings. Some of these towns would make fantastic settings for novels, so I’m bookmarking them all.

The same site also has images of derelict water parks, brain research facilities and psychiatric hospitals.

Derelict London has some great shots, including of Old Ford, which I am using as a location in the book I'm writing now. I need to get there for a visit to see if it is still there next to the high-end flats overlooking the River Lea.

Thanks to Gav and Perry for pointing out Shit London and Abandoned Scotland. The abandoned Arrochar Torpedo Testing Station is ideal for a location in the follow-up to Apocalypse Cow that is currently percolating in my mind.

This essay on 'ruin porn' delves into why we find these places so fascinating, and is illustrated with some great examples.

And finally, Abandoned America has more images from Matthew Christopher, who took some of the shots in the article above.

I’ve never placed too much value in objects, instead valuing experiences, and for me these images just reinforce that perception. Everything falls apart in the end.