Tuesday, 13 December 2016

Anthology Update - Guest Post by Eric Brown

Over the coming weeks and months, in the run up to the publication of the anthologies Lost Tales and Frontier Worlds, I will be inviting all the writers who have contributed a brand new story to each of the books to write a Guest Post here on my blog in which I will ask them to throw back the curtain and reveal to us their private writing world: seeing what exactly makes them tick as a writer, and asking them questions such as what inspired them growing up, and what they enjoy about other writers' works!

The second guest post is by my friend and best-selling SF author Eric Brown, who has written a story for Frontier Worlds...

I didn’t read as a child. In a way, I regret this as I missed out on all the children’s classics that are hard to read in quite the same way as an adult. On the plus side, it did mean that when I finally did discover the wonder of books, and especially fiction, the discovery hit me with the force of a revelation.

I was fourteen and recently arrived in Australia. At that time, the mid-Seventies, you could leave school down under at fifteen, and as I was fourteen and a half, and had shown no academic aptitude whatsoever, I grasped the opportunity with both hands. Before I began work in my parent’s corner shop, I had a long hot summer to kill, with no friends, strange TV, and temperatures in the nineties to endure. Bored to distraction one day, I was given Agatha Christie’s Cards on the Table and told by my mother, “Get out from under my feet and read this!”

I did, and the book changed my life.

It’s hard to describe quite what an impact this rather ordinary novel had on the psyche of that naive young man I was then. I’d never read a novel in my life – managing to skive with extraordinary skill when called to do any work at school – and to be allowed into the head of another human being via the medium of fiction, of experiencing albeit vicariously the plush, upper-class London on the 1930s, pole-axed me with wonder. I read every Agatha Christie whodunit I could lay my hands on and then, in an epiphany even greater, one day in Mordialloc public library discovered a paperback of Robert Silverberg’s short stories: Sundance. If Christie was revelatory, you can imagine what Silverberg’s SF did to my young mind. I was hooked. I read everything by the Master I could find, then discovered H. G. Wells and others, and it wasn’t long before I decided that being a writer must be the finest thing in the world. I began writing.

I’d also discovered Roald Dahl’s marvellous short stories around the same time, and my first tales were influenced by his macabre, twist-in-the-tail masterpieces – though without any real macabre element, and lacking the final, telling twist. The very first story I bashed out on a Kovack portable typewriter, bought for me by my parents, came to almost a thousand words – and I felt proud at writing something that long. It was a two-hander about a walker who comes upon an old yokel sitting by the side of a lane in Dorset. (I was very homesick at the time, and set my tales in an idealised rural Britain, green and lush, unlike the parched Australia where I was living.) The yokel warns the walker from going to the nearby village, as it’s full of strange folk, and he proceeds to recount how the village has its own draconian laws; a wrong-doer forfeits a body-part for a crime committed. The tale ends with the yokel wishing the walker good day, reaching behind him for a crutch, and hobbling off down the lane on one leg. A very poor tale clearly influenced by Dahl’s “A Man from the South”. I still have the yellow, foxed ms, and I see that for some reason it’s written entirely in capital letters.

That was the first short story I finished, and I wrote a hundred or so more before I made my first sale, “Krash-Bangg Joe and the Pineal Zen Equation” to interzone in 1987, some twelve years later. I was back in Britain by then, and had taken a year out from work (labouring in a factory) to travel and write novels. I was in Greece when I was contacted by an agent who’d read my first three tales in Interzone and wanted to know if I’d written a novel. Well, I’d written thirty of the things – all too short and very, very bad. (They were short because I’d read a lot of Ace Double novels, and thought this was the required length). I wrote back to him that I was working on a novel, but in the interim would he be interested in seeing a collection of short stories? He was and, miraculously, so were Pan Macmillan. I look back in wonder at my fortune. Which big publisher these days would take a chance on publishing a collection of short stories by an unknown writer? Answer: not one.

The Time-Lapsed Man
and other stories came out in 1990, followed in ’92 by my first novel, Meridian Days.

Around this time I gave up my job and became – rashly, in retrospect – a freelance writer. Looking back, I should have taken an apprenticeship in carpentry (they were still being offered in Yorkshire at the time) to tide me over the lean times that were to lie ahead. But I didn’t know that then, and wrote feverishly with the blind optimism of youthful enthusiasm. Over the course of the next ten years I published just three or four novels, a couple of kids’ books, and loads of short stories (I was still living at home, so could exist frugally). I was dumped by Pan Macmillan after four books, Gollancz after six, and then changed agents: John Jarrold took me on and found me a home with Solaris, the company I’m still with. I’ve done thirteen novels for Solaris, with two in the pipeline, as well as four murder-mysterious for Seven House (a harking back to my first love, the whodunit) and a raft of novellas for PS Publishing and others. I love writing novellas – a form perfectly suited for the SF genre – and still write the occasional short story.

I write on a PC using Office Libre, and start work around 8.45, five days a week. I write for around two and a half hours (this dictated by the capacity of my dog’s bladder, as by then he’s demanding his second walk of the day). After lunch I put in another shift, and find that in a typical writing day I turn out a little over four thousand words. This means I can complete the first draft of a novel inside a month. Then comes the hard and ruthless work of rewriting the thing. I cut a lot. I find I write a lot of waffle in the first draft, with characters talking to each other at needless length, and I over-describe, finding my way into the novel. Around three or four months after first setting digit to keyboard, the novel is done, having been read by a few trusted and valued readers.

I've just finished the first draft of a time-travel novel. Next up, after Xmas, is a novella for Ian Whates at NewCon Press; his only remit: "Set it on Mars." After that I'm looking forward to writing the fourth Langham and 
Dupré mystery, whodunits set in 1950s Britain. I find that writing in a world known to the reader is a great antidote to writing SF, where the future is made up. I find I have greater stylistic freedom writing the crime novels, and relish writing eccentric characters, which don't lend themselves to the SF genre (for reasons I've gone into elsewhere).

Next year it will be thirty years since David Pringle and Simon Ounsley accepted my very first SF short story; I’ve written almost sixty books in that time, and a hundred and fifty short stories, and I’ve enjoyed every minute of it. (Well, almost… There are downsides to a writer’s life, but that’s another story.)

Eric'c next novel, Binary System, will be released next summer from Solaris, while the fourth novel in his 'Langham & Dupre' 1950s crime series, Murder Makes Three, will be published next April by Severn House. He is also collaborating on a short story collection with Tony Ballantyne called Microcosms.

He is currently working on an SF novella for Newcon Pres set on Mars.

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