Where are we?

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I realise after the fact that I’ve been hibernating for a while. As I threatened during my chat with the wonderful Anne Charnock at Mancunicon last March, we left that London and returned to the north at the end of May, and have now moved into a little house on the edge of the Peak District. I’ll swerve the hagiography, but it still feels a bit raw to be back after four very happy years down there. (So far I most miss the smell of Turkish ocakbasi in muggy summer as you come up the Kingsland Road.)

If it’s all been a bit hectic on the home front, it’s been a decent run creatively. Time apart, time stolen – our son coming along has forced me to be more disciplined, and in some ways more determined. (So much so that when people say, ‘How do you find the time?’ I feel like I’ve missed something – as if I might have already failed him.) Still, a brand new novel is now drafted (and redrafted) and pretty much ready for submission. So we’ll see…

Politically, of course, there have been profound jolts in the time since I last posted here. As much as anyone is, I’m still processing it all, especially as things continue to metastasise. But I do know that leaving the capital coincided with Brexit campaigning at fever pitch. For me, returning to a fairly conservative environment, this summer provided eye-opening exposure to a lot of anger, and in some cases to a vicious politics I’d not encountered for a long time – especially not in our London bubble. (Which isn’t to say I was ignorant: my fascination with ultra-nationalism in particular – a hangover from writing The Folded Man, I think – has kept me close to the wire. As Jo Cox’s horrible assassination proved, it’s not histrionic to say there are people in the UK preparing or even agitating for civil war.)

Still, I haven’t wanted (or been able) to say much about any of it – whether here or in social media. Partly because others do a much better job; partly because I don’t know enough; partly because I’ve been privately enjoying my son’s development. But mostly because I’ve just been way too despondent. Now we sit and watch a sort of conformity being ruthlessly enforced on all sides of the argument, and see in hindsight how easy it was to retreat into the plushness of our echo chambers. Now we watch the rise of demagogues, and previously unthinkable ideas entering the mainstream. Now we watch our government, apparently unopposed, thrashing around in post-Brexit bafflement – while pushing through things like the IP Bill, which might well lead to a country in which dissenting opinion, niche interest or even honest research will eventually be prosecutable…

And all the while, the dog-whistlers go on whistling, the hard-right marches in total lockstep, and the left continues to fragment and self-cannibalise.

So where are we? For me, at least, fiction is helping – reading to see, writing to understand. Maybe that’s pathetic – it definitely feels like cowardice sometimes. Silence can be consent, after all. But if reading is empathising, writing is also therapy. And, as Nina Allan notes in her excellent round-up of 2016, it can be a powerful form of resistance.

Heart to Heart

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Last Friday I was lucky enough to catch a preview of artist Yu-Chen Wang’s new work for The Imitation Game at Manchester’s Museum of Science and Industry and Manchester Art Gallery. I’ve already waffled on about my involvement with the project – but even after a good few weeks writing and editing fiction with Yu-Chen and museum curator Sarah Baines, it was still a brilliant surprise to see Yu-Chen’s vision fully realised.

Through fiction, film, pencil drawings and live performance (the shot above is Marc Parry playing a Linotype 78), Yu-Chen has created a rich, questioning work that explores and celebrates heritage and humanness. That it works so differently across both sites makes it even more fascinating.

On a personal level, I feel really lucky to have been involved. There’s no point sugarcoating it: writing collaboratively is challenging. It takes patience and compromise on all sides – not often the qualities of someone used to writing alone, obviously. But at the same time, this project is easily one of the most fun, rewarding things I’ve worked on. To go from nothing to three interlinked stories in a fairly short time was a big rush, and I loved and admired Yu-Chen’s imagination and sense of purpose; Sarah’s deep insight and humour. Plus how often do three people get to sit in a room and nerd out about machines?

The whole thing is definitely worth checking out if you’re in Manchester before June. And if you can make May’s live performances at the Science and Industry Museum, even better – the actors are ace.

Here’s more from the press release:

What if machines sitting in museum stores could remember, talk and interact with each other? What would they say, think and remember? Do machines have human qualities? Do humans have machine qualities?

In Spring 2015 Yu-Chen Wang was artist-in-residence at the Museum of Science and Industry. Her research and reflection on the Museum’s collection and historic site has led to a major new work, Heart to Heart for The Imitation Game, which encompasses text, performance, film, drawing and installation. Her work can be seen at both Manchester Art Gallery and the museum.

Following the residency, Wang collaborated with science fiction novelist Matt Hill and museum curator Sarah Baines to write the story of four characters inspired by a chosen group of objects at the Museum, who reminisce about their past and imagine their futures, revealing the interconnections between machine and human histories. The fictional text has become a script for a live performance, featuring the four machine characters.

A film of the performance is showing in the Liverpool Road Station building at the Museum of Science and Industry and an immersive installation using video projection, sound and drawing to evoke the machine dialogues is on display at Manchester Art Gallery.

Heart to Heart live performances at the Museum of Science and Industry run on these dates:

Friday 20 May: 10am, 11am, 12.30pm, 3.15pm, 4pm

Saturday 21 May: 10.45am, 12:45pm, 3pm, 4.15pm

Monday 23 May: 10am, 11am, 12.30pm, 3.15pm, 4pm

Tuesday 24 May: 10am, 11am, 1.45pm, 3.15pm

Tickets are free but places are limited – see eventbrite.co.uk for booking soon

A wild Graft appears

After a mild print hiccup delayed the UK print run, Graft is now officially launched in all Angry Robot territories. I think I’m allowed to breathe again.

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Ebook, US, UK. And a nice rug. Not pictured: an estranged audiobook.

As part of our publicity assault drive, I had a short essay published on SF Signal that delves into the responsibilities of writing fiction based on bleak reality, along with a piece at Upcoming4me about the car theft that inspired the book. Two more Q&As with me went up at MyLifeMyBooksMyEscape and My Bookish Ways, too.

I’m also happy to say there’s an official launch do happening at Waterstones Deansgate, Manchester, on Thursday March 24th. Angry Robot has organised this to coincide with Eastercon 2016, which is in Manchester this year. If you’re about that evening, pop in for some wine and my first public reading from the book!

And that’s it. Angry Robot have done such a lovely job of the book, and I’m proud as anything to see it out there. Back down the mine from next week.

Nearly there…

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Most writers would probably agree that an impending release causes a strange mix of excitement and anxiety. So it feels ace that with only a few weeks until Graft is published, some reviews and mentions are starting to pop up around the internets.

In its review, Publishers Weekly says Graft ‘captures the dark underbelly of Manchester in visceral prose’, and that the book’s world is ‘tinged with a sense of foreboding in this refreshing take on a futuristic mystery’.

Bad Cantina gives the book a thoughtful, positive write-up, too:

The world of Graft is a fascinating place to be. Hill’s deft writing immerses the reader in an abrasive, desperate universe, where corruption is rife and ethics are murky. Sol and Y are striving to get by, despite the avalanches of callousness and greed thrown their way, and their efforts are achingly relatable. Graft is dark and perilous, but it contains pure beams of love and beauty which gleam well beyond the final page.

(Following my earlier interview at SFF World, there’s also an interview with me at Bad Cantina where we go into flatpack furniture and austerity.)

The lovely people at NetGalley UK include Graft in their top-ten UK books released in February, calling it ‘a brilliant piece of dystopian futurism’ and ‘science fiction at its most astute’.

Carabas also include the novel in their new book recommends for February.

And then the brilliant Nina Allan mentions Graft in her excellent round-up of 2015 novels:

Hill’s mean and broken future Manchester is pretty inimitable. You’ll meet some amazing characters navigating some profoundly dangerous situations in an environment of true weirdness that has a touch of the William Gibsons about it whilst at the same time presenting a science fiction that’s very personal, very British. In a word, it’s fantastic.

All this and I got my hands on a physical copy of the diddy US edition, which I love to bits.

#robotchristmas

It sees you when you’re sleeping. It knows when you’re awake. It knows if you’ve been good or bad. And it may exterminate…

Angry Robot has sorted out a lovely campaign in time for Christmas over on the Barnes and Noble Sci-Fi & Fantasy blog. It’s called the 12 Days of Robot Christmas, and so far it’s like an advent calendar, just a lot more violent.

Every day in the run-up to Christmas there’s a new piece of original short fiction (1,500 words) going up on the B&N blog.

My story “The New Tradition” – a weird little time-travel mystery – went up last Friday. (It was called “Amazon Yesterday” until I remembered that Barnes and Noble might not appreciate plugging a rival.)

There’s still a pile of stories left to unwrap, so check them out. And if you have a Nook, you can even pick up a novel by one of the twelve authors for a tidy $2.99.

Meet Y

I’ve been dying to share the remarkable cover for Graft, designed by World Fantasy Award-winning artist John Coulthart, since I saw it a fortnight or so ago. Except it isn’t actually one cover, but three. The Angry Robot team liked three of John’s colourways so much that they’re using one for each edition. So, the UK edition will take the violet, the US edition will take the blue, and the ebook will use the red. 

The Barnes and Noble blog has the US cover reveal and an exclusive extract. And SFF World has the UK edition, plus an interview with me about the book and writing in general.

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Honestly, I couldn’t be more chuffed with how it looks. So much of the book is going on in there, and to have someone of John’s talent working on your stuff is beyond special. (Fun fact: John has also done art for Hawkwind.)

Graft goes up on NetGalley very soon, which means reviewers can get their hands on it. Parp!

It’s a boy

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Our son Albert was born in the early hours of last Friday. My memories of the actual birth are basically too surreal to relate in any meaningful way, but the cliches list themselves: terror, elation, (over)protectiveness, and a sense everything was being reshuffled at a cellular level.

Albie wasn’t too well for his first few hours in the world, so we experienced firsthand the NHS at its calm, committed best. Several times we caught ourselves in tears at the unthinking kindness of midwives, and every day we were in hospital, we acknowledged our luck at having a health system that gives so much, as well as the fear of knowing it might not always be this way. Nurses, midwives and paediatricians are doing little miracles every day – if you know one, give them a hug from us.

Looking at him now, a week on, some things keep repeating themselves. The fact that just over nine months ago he was the size of a poppy seed, a speck of matter that snuggled into my wife’s womb lining and started its weird mitotic processes; that his fingers and toes are impossible; that his head is so fragile; that his crying isn’t heard but felt, a physical pain; that in a weird way, Google serves as a third parent; and that while the weight of responsibility doesn’t seem unnatural per se, it’s definitely been sprung on us. It feels a bit like something inside has twisted and locked.

The rest of my thoughts and worries are again too private, or mostly impossible to articulate, but we’re very happy. And tired. And tearful.

As for writing, and news – not a lot’s going on. (As one writer friend said back in February: the challenge now won’t be finding the time to write anything, but mustering the inclination to write at all.) That said, Graft edits are in and done (Angry Robot kindly shuffled things about to accommodate impending parenthood), which means advanced reading copies are about ready to drop. This is scary and relieving: there’s no more to be done, nothing more you can do, and because you’ve lost all perspective, you almost have to dissociate yourself from three years of work and simply get on with it.

In the meantime, I’m cracking on with novel three, which is so far delving into urban exploration, steeplejacking, sleazy journalism and directed panspermia theory. A fiver says there’ll be some birth metaphors in there.