So a couple of months ago I handed in a new novel (it won't be out until the second half of 2020--these things have a long lead time). And it occurs to me that it's probably worth discussing book titles at some point, because I haven't really done so before.

As I noted in CMAP 6: Why is your book cover so awful? the only thing an author is expected to provide to a publisher is a finished manuscript containing the text of a novel (which they will then colaborate with the publisher on editing and proofread and, these days, marketing). The cover is not within the author's remit, and indeed the author may not see it before the general public. Nor is the cover marketing copy the author's job (writing cover copy that sells books, and writing books, are very different tasks, and many authors are utterly dire at writing their own marketing copy).

But something that also escapes many readers is that book titles are (a) fraught, and (b) not necessarily the author's job either. Which prompts me to write another entry in my ancient and haphazard series of essays about Common Misconceptions about Publishing (CMAP).

I live in an ancient city, in a medium-old apartment--one that is rapidly approaching its bicentennial. Like any building in continuous occupation for nearly 200 years, form and function have changed: it's been retrofitted with indoor plumbing, gas central heating, electricity, broadband internet. The kitchen has shrunk, a third of it hived off to create a modern (albeit small) bathroom. The coal-burning fireplaces are either blocked or walled over. Three rooms have false ceilings, lowered to reduce heating costs before hollowcore loft insulation was a thing. What I suspect was once the servants' bedroom is now a windowless storeroom. And rooms serve a different function. The dining room is no longer a dining room, it serves as a library (despite switching to ebooks a decade ago I have a big book problem). And so on.

But certain features of a 200 year old apartment remain constant. There are bedrooms. There is a privy (now a flushing toilet). There is a kitchen. There is a living room. And there is a corridor.

It's April 2019, and to my surprise I find I haven't been to any SF conventions so far this year. But that's going to change. Here's my (abbreviated) calendar:

18-22 April: Ytterbium, the UK eastercon, Heathrow, London. No, I'm not a guest of honour (for which I'm kinda thankful--I've been an eastercon GoH before, it's hard work), but I'll be on a few program items and hanging out in the hotel bar.

7-9 June: Cymera SF Festival, Edinburgh: not an SF convention so much as a literary festival specializing in SF/F; in particular I'm part of a double-header dialog with Jonathan Whitelaw on Saturday, June 8, 7:00 PM-8:00 PM.

5-7 July: Finncon, Jyväskylä, Finland: it's Finland's national SF convention, and I'm one of the guests of honour this year.

15-19 August: Dublin 2019, the 77th world science fiction convention, is held in Dublin, and I'm going to be there.

23-25 August: Titancon, the Eurocon (European SF convention) is in Belfast, and as I'm driving/taking the car ferry to Dublin 2019 and Belfast is on the road home ... nope, not even slightly kidding! (Doing conventions on consecutive weekends is normally one of my no-nos these days--it's exhausting--but I can hardly say no.) Program not finalized, but I hope to be on it.

I don't have any definite plans after Titancon, other than a provisional "let's go to the worldcon in New Zealand in 2020 (I have air miles to spend)", but doubtless stuff will come up.

Finally: no book launches this year, because 2019 is a gap in my publishing schedule. But that's going to be fixed in 2020, which should see the publication of both "Invisible Sun" and "Lost Boys", both of which will hopefully get launch events.

(Because the previous one passed 1200 comments and is getting a bit cumbersome ...)

So the Article 50 deadline has passed and we're now in penalty time. The British team is still arguing violently with itself while water pours through the changing room ceiling and the EU team looks on, bemused. 75% of the UK fans don't understand why they're playing this match and don't want to be there but the gates are locked until someone wins, and because nobody on the UK side read the rules their team is outnumbered 27 to 1 on the football pitch. The British team all hate their manager and want to sack her but they can't agree on a replacement; meanwhile the defenders are antsy because they placed bets on the outcome (they bet heavily that the other side would win) and they want to get to the betting shop. It turns out that most of them don't understand the rules of the game; some of them thought it was a cricket match, and two of them are playing bowls.

In other news, Serbian foreign minister advises citizens not to travel to the UK due to political chaos. I suppose he'd know the signs ...

So, I have some news to announce this week. Three pieces of it, in fact. All of them have been embargoed for sometime, but I'm finally clear to talk about it—just not all at once. So I'm going to update this announcement a couple of times between now and next Wednesday.

Firstly—I've been sitting on this for ages—but I'm now allowed to admit in public that THE LAUNDRY FILES has been optioned for TV by 42 (producers of Watership Down and Traitors (among other things). This has been grinding through the works for over a year. It's an option deal, meaning the production company are looking at writing a pitch and maybe a pilot script and seeing if they can get a network interested, so it's early days. It doesn't mean that a series has been commissioned or that anything is going to happen. (We've been here before, circa 2006-08, with an American outfit, and in the end nothing came of it.) However: it's a British production company, so anything that emerges this time round is likely to have a British feel to it, and they have a great track record.

Additionally: I'm pleased to announce the sale of the next Laundry Files novel, titled "Lost Boys", to be published by the usual suspects some time in 2020.

You might notice something odd about the title; it lacks a reference to any kind of document or archival storage medium. That's because "Lost Boys" isn't about the Laundry at all: it's a side-quest set in London under the reign of the New Management, and the only familiar character from previous stories is the Prime Minister (who appears briefly).

"Lost Boys" does for "Peter Pan" what "Equoid" did for unicorns. And that's all I'm going to say about it for now!

Finally: It has just been announced that The Laundry Files as a whole is shortlisted for the 2019 Hugo award for best series! And that's the third and final piece of news about the Laundry Files that I've been sitting on for a couple of weeks.)

(No, I don't know what's going to happen either.)

This isn't really a blog entry so much as the head of a discussion thread about the constitutional crisis currently gripping the UK, to stop Brexit neepery overrunning the comments on anything else I post here for the next month or six.

(We have: a minority government led by an instinctive authoritarian xenophobe who consistently fails to understand the relationship between the Crown-in-Parliament and the Government, not to mention an issue that has split the British public down the middle and similarly split both main political parties so badly that they're already fragmenting. It's being exploited as a wedge issue by the hard right and by foreign actors and unscrupulous investors who want to asset-strip what's left of the state and then repurpose it as a tax haven (there are signs that the hard left is also interested in the potential for what one might call "disaster socialism", but this is probably over-stated). The issue is also acting as a centrifuge on the Union, because majorities in Scotland and Northern Ireland opposed Brexit from the outset—indeed, the third largest party in Parliament, the Scottish National Party, are adamantly opposed, but totally sidelined by the dominant Conservative/Labour factions. And we have a bunch of other splinters under the fingernails of the body politic: the DUP (from the quasi-Christo-fascist right of Northern Ireland) propping up Theresa May, for example. And on the other other side, we have the EU27, who are acting collectively and defensively to defend their stability by enforcing the rule of international law—which none of the British factions seem to understand.)

Anyway. What's happening today? What's going to happen tomorrow? Your guess is as good as mine, so feel free to have at it in the comments!

So, about a decade ago I wrote an essay on this blog about the writing of the Merchant Princes series (at that point, six slim novels—the Empire Games follow-on trilogy wasn't more than a daydream back then), in which I tried to pin down what I'd learned about writing a series.

Now, a decade later, I've written a whole lot more. The Merchant Princes/Empire Games sequence is now up to nine books (yes, "Invisible Sun" is in the edit pipeline: it'll be published in March 2020). The Laundry Files is up to ten books, plus nearly another book's worth of short stories. (That tenth novel isn't announced yet, but will probably show up in 2020.)

Having written a story over a million words long twice, I thought I'd sit down and do a brain dump of what I've learned about writing really long-form fiction—in the hope that it'll be useful to someone else who's just starting out on this ultra-marathon.

(By way of a yardstick, a 300 page book is roughly 100,000 words. "The Lord of the Rings" weighs in at 440,000 words: "War and Peace" is around 620,000 words.)

Things have been a little quiet around here lately, so by way of an apology, let me explain why this is so. And also why "Invisible Sun" is so late.

Back in late 2013 my editor at Tor, David Hartwell, somehow charmed me into writing a follow-up trilogy to the Merchant Princes series.

"Empire Games", the trilogy, was originally due to come out starting in 2015. Indeed, David was gung-ho to push out all three novels at three month intervals, like Jeff Vandermeer's Southern Wake trilogy. Unfortunately, what David hadn't reckoned with was that I was already committed to publishing a novel a year via my other publishers, and my natural output rate is about 1.5 books/year. Also, David was that rare bird in these modern times, an editor who liked to edit. Indeed, he just about edited me to death. The first two novels, "Empire Games" and "Dark State", were undoubtedly improved by his diligence, but it served me as a crash course reminder in why I had resolved never to work with David again after the first series. (If you've ever had a charming but intensely annoying micromanager: it was like that.)

So we were just getting to grips with "Invisible Sun", a couple of years late (that kind of delay happens when your editor edits the first two books three times) ... when a bookcase fell on him and he died.

(It gets worse.)

(Pinned to top because the Hugo/Nebula/other award nominations are currently open)

It's that time of year again, when some authors remind everyone that they're eligible for various awards for fiction published in 2018.

My total publications for 2018 consisted of: two novels and one novelette.

You probably haven't read the novelette because it's published in an anthology— Knaves over Queens, the first British-set collection in the Wild Cards series, a sequence of shared-universe stories edited by George R. R. Martin and Melinda Snodgrass. My story, "Police on my Back", is published in Knaves over Queens, which is currently only available in the UK (first US publication isn't until next year). (Amazon.co.uk link.)

As for the novels, these are Dark State (Tor, UK and USA: January 2018), the second Empire Games book (or eighth Merchant Princes novel, depending on how you count them), and "The Labyrinth Index" (US Amazon link, UK Amazon link), published by Tor.com Publishing (in the USA) and Orbit (in the UK). And that's the ninth book in the Laundry Files, or maybe the tenth (if you count "Equoid" as a really short novel rather than a novella) or eleventh (if you also factor in the really short short story collection Tor.com published as an ebook).

So last night a British government was handed the biggest defeat in modern parliamentary history (since the middling-late 19th century, at any rate) in its attempt to systematically disenfranchise three million EU citizens, violate the Good Friday Agreement, generate a requirement for a racist and invasive population tracking system (hint: that's an implicit corollary of the NI border backstop, and the Home Office has had a hard-on for a National Identity Register since the 1950s), and irreparably damage the British financial, services, and manufacturing sectors ... all in the name of preserving Conservative Party unity.

(Lest we forget, in a 2015 poll of how the public prioritized different political issues, EU membership came tenth out of a field of ten.)

In the USA, the Republican-induced shutdown of government spending has resulted in Coast Guards being paid out of a charity, Air Traffic Controllers being fed pizza paid for by the Canadian counterparts, and diabetic civil servants desperately rationing their insulin and just hoping to wake up in the morning. If it goes on much longer, a lot of those civil servants won't be around to come back to work: they'll have had to go looking for jobs elsewhere. And yet, the shutdown continues because the mafia shill in the big house desperately needs a distraction from the 17 different investigations into his crime ring, and "build a wall" rallies his party base.

It's almost like these were two sides of the same coin, isn't it?

I'm trying to remember if I said this on my blog some time over the last 20 years, but: one of my working principles is that the event horizon in politics in a democracy is no more than 5 years. (Or: the maximum time between elections.) Consider Germany in January 1934, and how outlandish and dystopian the situation would have sounded if you'd described it to a German citizen in January 1929. (30% unemployment! A dictator and a state of emergency! Concentration camps! Anti-Jewish laws!)

Here's a reflection: the value proposition of democracy is that it provides for a peaceful transfer of power, once an incumbent regime loses its political legitimacy. If you have a working democracy you don't need revolutions to get rid of incompetent leadership. As Enoch Powell said, "every politician's career ends in failure" (unless they die unexpectedly): in a democracy they agree to step down, and life goes on.

But when you get a faction, party, or regime that no longer subscribes to the idea of democracy and refuses to back down gracefully, you get back the old problems: pressure for change builds up and when it erupts the effects can be devastating and unpleasant--especially, as we've had a crash-course reminder in recent years, when the tools of communication make it really easy for dangerous demagogues to draw a following.

I think we can safely say that since 2013, the grip of the beige dictatorship on the western system has been broken. Unfortunately, we're now living through a period of turbulence analogous to that which followed the collapse of the Age of Monarchies in Europe, 1917-1919 (during which pretty much every monarchy in central and eastern Europe went down like a row of dominoes). It took until 1945 for the dust to settle and a stable, broadly social-democratic new order to emerge in the west: I just hope our current turbulence settles down before 2045, because otherwise our planetary climate and biosphere is fucked.

So, 2018 is nearly over, at last. It was an absolute shit-show of a year for numerous reasons. On a personal level, I'll be remembering it primarily as the year I hit a personal wall, flaming out and delivering a novel six months late (for the first time in my career). In reaction to which, I decided to take a six month sabbatical (my first break from writing in a decade) ... then had the sabbatical interrupted by a family medical crisis, of the "an immediate relative spends three months on a stroke ward and will never recover" variety.

In comparison with the global political picture, my personal 2018 was all butterflies and rainbows. 2018 was the year that the global climate change alarm sirens began to sound continuously, with wildfires and heat emergencies and melting icecaps. 2018 was also, by no coincidence whatsoever, the year in which the global neo-Nazi movement made considerable headway, with neo-fascist demagogues grabbing power in Brazil, tightening their stranglehold in India, the Philippines, Turkey, the USA, Italy, and elsewhere. The UK was, for a third consecutive year, paralyzed by the utter shit-show that is Brexit, with the deadline now looming less than 100 days ahead of us. It was the year in which it became glaringly clear that the 2016 US election was rigged by a combination of election fraud and AI-controlled targeting of individual voters by state-level propaganda systems in order to amplify internal hatred and dissent: and that the same people and tools used in the US campaign had also driven the Brexit referendum result, and were in use elsewhere around the world.

I am looking for any silver linings to 2018 and coming up blank.

So, can you help me? What was the good side of 2018, the things we should remember this year for happily rather than with a curse?

Just popping in to note that, in the wake of the failed ERG leadership challenge against Theresa May, Brexit hysteria has escalated so far that mainstream political pundits in major newspapers are invoking Cthulhu in print. Words fail me. I really, truly, cannot cope with this shit: the Laundry Files are satire, dammit, not a political documentary!

(Normal blogging might resume whenever I manage to stop gibbering in a closet.)

So, it has come to my attention that there are a few typos in "The Labyrinth Index". Can you help me track them down so I can get them fixed in future editions?

Reporting requirements: it's not useful to tell me "you misspelled 'Bob' somewhere". I need to know:

  • If a paper edition, then which publisher and which page and paragraph (the US hardcover is published by Tor, the UK hardcover by Orbit, and the page numbers don't match because they use different paper and typeface sizes).

  • If an ebook edition, then the ebook platform you're using (Kindle, Kobo, iBooks), the publisher (Tor, Orbit), and ideally the Kindle file location or equivalent and a text string containing the typo: e.g. "fly anohter 3000 fly another 3000" (which is the blooper in chapter 11 that everyone is telling me about).

Typos I know about:

US kindle edition, Location 5534, "fly anohter 3000" should be deleted

US hardcover, Page 245 (footnote 8): "dick picks" should be "dick pics"

US hardcover, Page 362: "I his paydirt" should be "I hit paydirt"

Stuff I want confirmation of:

US kindle edition, location 2115, "Slide 9"contains the string "In excess of 109 directed human sacrifices". This is rendered correctly (10^9, 10 superscript 9) in the Kindle app on iOS, but I've heard reports of it being rendered as "109" (no superscript) on other ebook platforms. If you noticed this, please report (including the type and software version of your reader).

(Please don't re-report mis-spellings already reported on other platforms; if it's mis-spelled on paper in one country it'll be misspelled in the other, and in the ebooks too.)

Can you find anything else?

So: Brexit means Brexit means, apparently, a choice between a deal negotiated by Theresa May's government which is broadly as appealing as eating a shit sandwich, or leaving the EU with no transitional arrangement in place, the equivalent of stripping naked and rolling around in the contents of an entire sewage farm.

(Consequences of May's deal include: millions of people lose the right to move freely and live in the UK or EU territory they've relocated to, British citizens lose the right to move freely through 27 other countries, the UK has to abide by EU rules we don't get to vote on for an indefinite period, and a bunch of other unpalatable issues summed up, ironically, by pro-brexit politicians as "loss of sovereignty". Consequences of no deal make May's deal look like a walk in the park; food and medicine shortages, flights grounded, currency crisis, companies going bust because inputs and outputs are unavailable or suddenly subject to high tariffs, troops on the street, state of civil emergency likely.)

My money is on—eventually—either a parliamentary coup and a new Conservative PM who unilaterally withdraws May's Article 50 submission, or a period of chaos leading up to a second referendum (at which point the Leave side will be soundly defeated).

But. In the meantime. What options, however implausible, might make Brexit work?

Let me give you some ideas. (Then you can try your hand at 'make Brexit Brexit' in the comments!)

Sometimes current affairs rally round and serve up the perfect backdrop to a book launch - and so it was earlier this year, when the Cambridge Analytica story broke just as my debut novel Everything About You was published.

Faces pic

As you probably remember, data was taken from around 87 million Facebook profiles and used to target thousands of adverts. Whatever Cambridge Analytica did with the information, it did effectively, contributing to changes in the political landscape that are still hard to credit.

Now that the firm is no more, there is one part of the story that has stuck with me. According to whistleblower Christopher Wylie, the firm consciously targeted people’s ‘inner demons’. How is it possible that a company had access to millions of people’s inner demons? Ten years ago we would have laughed at this idea and wished them good luck.

When writing Everything About You, I was setting events in the near future (the book is about a virtual assistant who takes over the protagonist’s life through knowing everything about her). But what the Cambridge Analytica scandal brought to light is that a time in which our hopes, dreams and deepest fears are known, interpreted and sold is almost upon us, and for the next generation it's virtually unavoidable.

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