Perennial update

The Breach, or the novel that very nearly did me in, is structurally edited and back for copy edits at Titan. It’ll be out in March 2020, and a cover design will follow soon.

I’m beavering away on the next thing, working title Mothertown. It’s a maddening experience, and I’m enjoying it. That’s masochism for you.

In a couple of weeks I’ll be at Edge-Lit 6 in Derby, where I’m interviewing guest of honour Anne Charnock about her work. I think the world of Anne and I love her stuff, so it’s an honour to have been asked. On top of that, Edge-Lit has a keen focus on genre writing craft, in a single concentrated day of goodness – bag yourself a ticket!

Lastly, and definitely not leastly, our second son was born a couple of weeks ago. We couldn’t be more proud, or more grateful to the midwives and doctors who delivered him while keeping Suze safe. He’s a belter, but the jury’s out on whether he’ll be ginger.

Recent entertainment

Paternity leave gave me a good excuse to finally finish Tim Major’s excellent Snakeskins. It’s set in a stunted, parochial alt-UK in which a group of people called Charmers renew themselves in a process called ‘shedding’, which briefly creates a clone. This marvellous (and bonkers) idea is fully explored and, pleasingly, played straight. It’s been compared to Wyndham, and with good reason: the book has a strange, timeless quality, in part owing to its setting, but also because Tim brings real humanity to characters that in different hands might fall flat in the face of such a strong concept.

Vicki Jarrett’s Always North is published by Unsung Stories this October. I read an advance copy of this one, and I’m so chuffed I did – it’s a wonderful, beautifully written novel you should definitely keep your eyes peeled for. Here’s my take: Told in glowing prose, Always North confronts the oncoming future with power, wit and originality. Come for the intrigue of a mission into the changing Arctic; stay for the ingenious shift to an England shattered by rising water. It will mesmerise you.

I’m also about two-thirds through Widow’s Welcome by D.K. Fields. I’m the first to admit I’m not much of a fantasy reader – but here’s a book that’s doing very interesting things with form and approach, with a properly intriguing crime hook. Stories within stories, political games and deceit, served in a buttery style.

Next up I’ve got Svetlana Alexievich’s Boys in Zinc (aka Zinky Boys), an oral history of the Soviet war in Afghanistan, and Aliya Whiteley’s The Loosening Skin, which I want to read before the Clarke Award is announced (and Aliya hopefully wins).

(On the Alexievich theme, the recent HBO mini-series Chernobyl needs no more praise but deserves it anyway. Properly magnificent stuff.)

‘How’s your book going?’

This usually means, ‘How may copies has the book sold, and are you rich now?’ To which the answer is always, ‘I don’t know yet, and I’ll never be rich writing the weird shit I keep writing.’ But here’s the answer I prefer to give: I’m incredibly grateful for Zero Bomb’s readers and the responses it’s had – including my very first national press review in the Guardian. It was a project that mattered a lot when I was writing it, and the Titan team have done an amazing job getting it out there. Vainly, I’ve collated its reviews on this page.

William Gibson writes of not really knowing what his books are about until people start reading them. By way of categorisation, ‘post-Brexit dystopia’ seems to be the way in for Zero Bomb, and it’s been gratifying to see people engage with some of the stuff that drove it – the ongoing devastation of austerity; the UK’s slide down a dehumanising gig-economy hole; 2016’s toxic EU referendum and its resulting chaos; our rotten and recursive news cycle; the absolute state of the psychopaths who run this country.

Semi-autonomous drone-foxes aside, I still see most of the book’s setting as probable – not least because simple projections will carry you a long way into grim territory. I got into some more of that in two interviews during promo season – you can read them here and here.

A bit of fretting

It should go without saying that I’m privileged to be published, to find readers, to earn a little money from the process. In fact I’m lucky to be able to write fiction at all – spare time being the truest luxury in this world. But I want to be honest about self-promotion. There are certain expectations that go with the book-writing territory (albeit some imagined or exacerbated by anxious thinking), and one of those is that I will push my work and help to justify my editors and publishers’ faith in it. Six years after my first publication, I’m still working out what feels comfortable, as opposed to what feels plain gross or performative. Something about the tension between writing as expression and book as commodity. In the simplest terms, I’m squeamish about finding ways to condense 70,000 words into a snappy, snackable, shareable one-liner, never mind having the balls to ask for someone to part ways with their cash. So while I’m happy and proud to announce my work, to share reviews (cough), and of course to be read, there’s no getting away from the fact the promotional game has been highly/callously optimised, and you have to play along. And it doesn’t always sit right.

This feeling links in to why I’m ever-more skeptical about posting word counts or any kind of writing ‘productivity’ metrics, and why I distrust anything that tries to quantify a form that should resist quantification by default. When, idly vanity-searching one day (cough), you discover a team of researchers is using a system to analyse novels’ ‘emotional story arcs’, based on the words contained in them, you have to wonder. Word counts, data ‘insights’, targets, clickbait, pleading for retweets… besides meeting deadlines and/or your own satisfaction, what does this kind of weird competitive economy do to fiction?

Maybe it’s my day job as a copywriter fuelling this – there’s only so many times you can hear writing called ‘content’ before you want to boil your own head – but creating stuff inside capitalism is a topic I find both compelling and uncomfortable. It’s also one I intend to try and do something with in the next couple of years.

Until next time!

Zero Bomb’s away

Zero Bomb is published today by the lovely crew at Titan Books, and is now available in all your favourite places.

It’s a book I didn’t quite see coming: I started writing it in January 2017 and finished the first draft late that summer – pretty fast by my usual standards. But the real writing comes in editing, and it was only ready for initial submission as a novel called Automatic England about five months and two extra drafts after that. Just over a year later, and here, somehow, we are. It’s a beautifully made thing – including that genius art by Julia Lloyd – with a set of blurbs I’m still pinching myself over. As ever, there’s a weird sense of exposure, excitement and anxiety. Most of all, though, I feel privileged and immensely grateful to everyone involved. I hope people like it.

Looking ahead, I’ll be at Eastercon in Heathrow over the Easter weekend, and in Derby for Edge-Lit in July. Then, in August, I’m hopping over to Dublin for my very first Worldcon – assuming it’s still possible to leave the country.

For more about Zero Bomb, head over here.

Zero Bomb and The Breach to Titan Books

Massively excited to write that Titan Books have acquired my next two novels for UK/US publication in 2019 and 2020.

Zero Bomb (March 2019) is a paranoid near-future SF mystery set between London, Birmingham and the fringes of Manchester. It concerns ‘news trauma’, neo-Luddite terrorism, crap parenting, ‘70s British SF and a very strange fox.

There’s a cover reveal and short extract from Zero Bomb up at Tor.com here.

The Breach, meanwhile, is my take on a first-contact story. It’s about a local journalist investigating the death of a climber, and a trainee steeplejack with an unhealthy interest in urban exploration. Fairies, body horror, a massive space elevator scam, completely made-up fall arrest technology… and other fun stuff.

Both books share a fictional northern town called Dillock (which happily rhymes with pillock), but they’re otherwise standalone, and don’t have anything to do with my first two.

They’re also going to be published under a new pen name: M.T. Hill.

Hoping to share more soon, but for now I’m feeling excited and very fortunate to be joining Titan’s list.

End state

2017. A small country, seized by nostalgia for a country that never actually existed to start with, begins to implode…

My writing year peaked early with my trip to Seattle for Norwescon 40 and the Philip K. Dick Awards ceremony. Fittingly, science fiction conventions always have something of the slipstream about them. As Claudia Casper points out in her own excellent write-up, you exist, for a few days at least, in a sort of pocket universe – in this case a very beige airport hotel – into which a hundred different fandoms are squashed. And then you go home again, unsure about exactly what happened, but weirdly relieved it did.

From the moment I landed in Seattle, I was brilliantly well looked after by the convention staff and Angry Robot crew, and felt super grateful to be nominated and there at all. Highlights include signing the back of a Kindle for a woman dressed as a Weeping Angel from Doctor Who; joining the ‘League of Extraordinary Redheads’ (thank you, Lisa M); doing a panel alongside Possibly the World’s Loveliest Man, Ethan Siegel; and walking for miles to marvel at downtown Seattle.

Congratulations again to the wonderful Claudia Casper, whose novel The Mercy Journals took home the prize. Here are the four (of six) of us that made it, looking… writerly? From left to right, winner Claudia Casper, some tosser, Kristy Acevedo, and special citation winner Susan diRende. (Photo by William Sadorus.)

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What else? Well, I spent the rest of the year writing a short novel to make two drafted since Graft, and (re)learned five important rules for the game. Namely:

  1. Publishing is weird
  2. Really, really weird
  3. The only thing you can control is your writing
  4. So if you’re on sub, or waiting on news, keep writing
  5. Also, a watched inbox never dings

Elsewhere, and between dadding, working, editing and writing (and playing Titanfall 2, the best multiplayer game ever made), I didn’t make enough time to read everything I planned to. Here are my four favourites of the books I did get to:

Sarah Hall’s new collection Madame Zero enthralled as much as it unsettled. She writes a kind of subtle horror, which, like Alison Moore’s, gets under my skin in a very particular way. These stories seem especially focused on motherhood and parenting, and are acutely honest. Two in particular – ‘Later, His Ghost’ (originally published here) and ‘Evie’ – are ridiculously good.

Lionel Davidson’s Kolymsky Heightswas a masterclass in understated thriller writing. I don’t mean to say it’s a quiet novel – it’s anything but – but the writing, while propulsive, is beautiful without being showy; full of technical detail without ever being dull. That’s how you do it, Mr Weir…

Having watched Tom Ford’s glassy Nocturnal Animals on a plane, I finally picked up Tony and Susan, Austin Wright’s 1993 novel(-within-a-novel). Literate, clever, unashamedly meta. And, in places, unbearably tense. If you’ve seen the film and found the family’s ‘encounter’ with the gang tough-going, the book is even more wrenching, full of impotent anger and melancholy.

My best read this year was Svetlana Alexievich’s astonishing oral history Voices from Chernobyl (recently retranslated/republished over here as Chernobyl Prayer, which I’d totally missed). In some ways this book is almost revisionist for me – I think our cultural understanding of the Chernobyl disaster is skewed away from the apocalypse wrought on its victims and constructed instead as ‘look at these cool photos of a deserted Pripyat.’ I’ve thought about it every day since I finished it. Harrowing, angry, sometimes bleakly funny, and deeply strange. Frankly, it serves to make most science fiction irrelevant.

And that’s really about it. Here’s to 2018, and a good solid bunker.

Norwescon 2017

This Easter I’m jetting out to Seattle for Norwescon 40 and the 2017 Philip K Dick Award ceremony. I’m looking forward to meeting the other nominees, to exploring the city, and to catching up with the Angry Robot crew across the pond.

This will be my first US convention, and while I have some expectations (world-class cosplay, people asking me to repeat myself), I’m also aware it’ll be very different from UK conventions I’ve attended so far.

If you happen to be there, my schedule is below. Otherwise I’ll be wandering about, lost, taking photos, or hunting tacos. Please say hello! I’m the lanky ginger one.

Friday April 14th

Philip K. Dick Award: What It Is, What It Means

12:00pm – 1:00pm @ Grand 2

Administrators and nominees for this year’s award discuss the PK Dick Award and the legacy of Philip K. Dick.

Philip K. Dick Awards

7:00pm – 8:30pm @ Grand 2

Presented annually at Norwescon, with the support of the Philip K. Dick Trust, for distinguished science fiction published in paperback original form in the United States. The award is sponsored by the Philadelphia Science Fiction Society and the Philip K. Dick Trust and the award ceremony is sponsored by Norwescon and the Northwest Science Fiction Society.

Saturday April 15th

The Year is 2067

7:00pm – 8:00pm @ Evergreen 1&2

From the tablet to cell phones, we live in an era forecast long ago in science fiction. Our panelists look ahead 50 years and extrapolate on what the current stories of today may forecast for tomorrow.

I have a few issues with the idea that ‘good’ science fiction demands ‘good’ futurism, but extrapolation is a fun game. The trickiest decision is whether to be realistic, given the current state of play (increasingly devastating automated warfare; unfathomable heat; general savagery; Scotland fitted with propellers and pootling happily towards the Arctic Circle), or plain hopeful (meaningful peace; meaningful communities; cheap, clean energy; free healthcare). Maybe my grandfather had it right when he recently said: ‘You science fiction authors have vastly underestimated how awful things are going to get.’

Philip K. Dick Award

Today was going to be an odd day for plenty of reasons. This morning’s news that Graft is nominated for the 2017 Philip K. Dick Award has made it all the weirder.

To say this means a lot is a ridiculous understatement. Dick’s work (particularly his short stories) has been hugely influential on my stuff, so to have my strange little novel anywhere near his name is an honour.

Big, big thanks to everyone who’s read and supported the book. To celebrate, it’s currently on sale over at Angry Robot. Pick up the ebook here.

2017 Philip K. Dick Award Nominees Announced

The judges of the 2017 Philip K. Dick Award and the Philadelphia SF Society, along with the Philip K. Dick Trust, are pleased to announce the six nominated works that comprise the final ballot for the award:

CONSIDER by Kristy Acevedo (Jolly Fish Press)
HWARHATH STORIES: TRANSGRESSIVE TALES BY ALIENS by Eleanor Arnason (Aqueduct Press)
THE MERCY JOURNALS by Claudia Casper (Arsenal Pulp Press)
GRAFT by Matt Hill (Angry Robot)
UNPRONOUNCEABLE by Susan diRende (Aqueduct Press)
SUPER EXTRA GRANDE by Yoss, translated by David Frye (Restless Books)

First prize and any special citations will be announced on Friday, April 14, 2017 at Norwescon 40 at the DoubleTree by Hilton Seattle Airport, SeaTac, Washington.

The Philip K. Dick Award is presented annually with the support of the Philip K. Dick Trust for distinguished science fiction published in paperback original form in the United States during the previous calendar year.  The award is sponsored by the Philadelphia Science Fiction Society and the Philip K. Dick Trust and the award ceremony is sponsored by the Northwest Science Fiction Society.  Last year’s winner was APEX by Ramez Naam (Angry Robot) with a special citation to ARCHANGEL by Marguerite Reed (Arche Press). The 2016 judges are Michael Armstrong (chair), Brenda Clough, Meg Elison, Lee Konstantinou, and Ben Winters.

 

 

Where are we?

pylon

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.