Plotting A Trilogy

When I set out to write the Embers of War and Ack-Ack Macaque trilogies, I had to decide how to structure the plot across three books. So, I took a lesson from Star Wars.

Book One establishes our heroes and sets up their world and the background to the coming conflicts, but it’s also an adventure in its own right, with our heroes triumphing at the end.

But then along comes Book Two, and everything gets turned upside down. Gains made in the first book are lost; the characters find the rug pulled out from under them; Luke finds out who his real father is…

So, the start of Book Three finds our characters at their lowest ebb. Their plans are wrecked and they’ve seemingly lost everything. And that’s right when the forces opposing them seem to be ascendant. A new Death Star is built. Han is delivered to Jabba. Leia becomes a slave. They have reached rock bottom and the only thing to do now is fight back. Their trials in Book Two have changed them, and they have new strengths and new goals. They understand themselves better.

The end of Book Three pulls together all the threads from One and Two, and resolves all the character arcs to create a satisfying conclusion.

To reduce it to a simple diagram:

Struggling to create? You’re not alone

We’re approaching the first anniversary of the start of this seemingly endless pandemic. And while I know some people have been super productive during the months of enforced isolation, the rest of us have been struggling a bit.

We’re living through a global crisis, and the constant, pervasive background worry takes its toll. Too much of the stress hormone cortisol can lead to exhaustion, irritability, anxiety, depression, and trouble concentrating. And then, you have all the other stresses of pandemic life. Some people are isolated and lonely; others are cooped-up together and struggling to get time to themselves. The way we work has been turned upside-down, and the nightly news has given us a white-knuckle political ride.

Small wonder we’re finding it hard to concentrate. A lot of my friends complain of “brain fog.” It’s almost as if we can’t think clearly right now, and we’re tired all the time. It’s difficult to summon the energy to write a shopping list, let alone a ninety thousand word blockbuster.

So, if this all sounds familiar, please know you’re not alone. Our mental health has taken a terrific battering this past year, and we’re not out of the woods yet. It’s okay to feel bad. It’s okay to get a lot of rest, if you need it. Life is demanding enough right now; don’t put too much additional pressure on yourself by expecting unrealistic performance levels. But, if it’s all getting too much, there is absolutely no shame in asking your doctor for help. In fact, from personal experience, I’d recommend it.

In addition, I’ve been trying to take pleasure in the small stuff: good tea, scenic walks, upbeat music, Zoom meetings with friends. And the more I build reading into my day, the more I feel my concentration starting to return. And with it, my desire to write.

Spring is coming. Hang in there, concentrate on being kind to yourself and those around you, and we will get through.

BSFA Shortlist

I am delighted to report that Light of Impossible Stars has followed in the footsteps of its two predecessors by making the BSFA Awards shortlist!

If you’re eligible to vote, I’d appreciate your support, as I’m up against some fierce competition in the Best Novel Category. Check it out:

  • Tiffani Angus, Threading the Labyrinth, Unsung Stories.
  • Susanna Clarke, Piranesi, Bloomsbury.
  • M. John Harrison, The Sunken Land Begins to Rise Again, Gollancz.
  • N.K. Jemisin, The City We Became, Orbit.
  • Gareth L. Powell, Light of Impossible Stars, Titan Books.
  • Kim Stanley Robinson, The Ministry for the Future, Orbit.
  • Nikhil Singh, Club Ded, Luna Press.
  • Adrian Tchaikovsky, The Doors of Eden, Tor.
  • Liz Williams, Comet Weather, Newcon Press.
  • Nick Wood, Water Must Fall, Newcon Press.

You can see the whole list (and vote) here: BSFA

Embers of War TV Series

So last night, Variety announced that Stampede Ventures and wiip have partnered to adapt my Embers of War series of novels as a television show.

Gary Graham is attached to adapt the book for the screen (and his pilot script is amazing!), with Breck Eisner (who directed many episodes of The Expanse) onboard to direct. Both will also executive produce along with Greg Silverman and Paul Shapiro of Stampede alongside wiip. And I will serve as co-executive producer.

It’s a very exciting time, and I will now be on the edge of my seat waiting to see which networks picks up the show…

Link to the full Variety article here.

The Joy of Walking

Last week, I went for an appropriately socially distanced stroll around Bristol docks with horror writer and Bram Stoker Award nominee, Gemma Amor. We started at the Watershed (see picture above) and did a circuit taking in the Arnolfini, M-Shed, ss Great Britain, the Nova Scotia pub, Hotwells Road, and Millennium Square.

After living the hermit lifestyle for so long, it was great to actually be out getting some exercise and enjoying the company of another author. Writing can be so solitary that it’s always inspiring to meet someone who understands what it’s like to toil in the word mines.

According to the Health app on my iPhone, I racked up almost ten thousand steps, which felt great. One of my aims for 2021 is to start getting more exercise, and our circumnavigation of the floating harbour reminded me how much fun that can be.

Plus, exercise really lifts my mood. I have been down in the dumps a lot, which can make it hard to summon the energy or motivation to get outdoors – but even a brisk ten minute walk can clear your mind and help you relax.

It certainly makes me feel more confident and ready to tackle my writing. Getting the blood flowing gets the brain working, and problems that seemed intractable before appear suddenly manageable.

So, get away from that screen, strap on your walking shoes, and get out there. Health and inspiration await!

[You can see my photos from the walk on my Instagram feed here, and Gemma’s on her feed here.]

Light Chaser cover reveal

A secret war against artificial intelligence and a future, unknowable foe; and a love that transcends death and time…

I am thrilled to reveal the cover for Peter F. Hamilton and Gareth L. Powell’s action-packed sci-fi adventure Light Chaser—available August 24th from Tordotcom Publishing.

A love powerful enough to transcend death can bring down an empire.

Amahle is a Light Chaser – one of a number of explorers who travel the universe alone (except for their onboard AI), trading trinkets for life stories.

When listening to the stories sent down through the ages she hears the same voice talking directly to her from different times and on different worlds. She comes to understand that something terrible is happening, and only she is in a position to do anything about it.

And it will cost everything to put it right.

Blog Plans for 2021

Photo by Glenn Carstens-Peters on Unsplash

Having resurrected my blog this year, I hope you’ve been enjoying the writing advice I’ve been posting. 216 of you currently subscribe, so I know I must be doing something right. However, as we look ahead to a new year, I want to be sure I’m giving you want you want. So, please feel free to comment with any suggestions you might have.

For instance, would you be interested in a few personal updates mixed in with the advice posts? Maybe regular Q&A sessions?

Please, let me know below…

Top Ten Tips for Selling Books on Social Media

As an author, you want to get the word out about your latest book. After all, people can’t buy it if they don’t know it exists. But how do you make your work stand out from all the online clamour?

You can’t throw a metaphorical rock on Twitter without hitting half a dozen authors. There are a lot of us there, both traditionally published and self published, and we all want to attract readers. But simply posting endless entreaties to buy your book doesn’t work. Nobody wants to follow an account that constantly harangues them.

So, what can you do?

Speaking from my own experience, it seems the best way to interest people in your writing is to first interest them in yourself. Put the ‘social’ back into social media.

I never set out with a marketing plan. As far as I’m concerned, I’ve always been myself on Twitter and Instagram. And that authenticity is important, I think. Over the past decade on Twitter, I’ve built up an engaged following, and that has had a definite impact on my visibility as an author, and consequently on the sales of my books.

But the social part came first. I made friends with other writers and people in the bookselling, publishing, and reading communities. I engaged in conversations that weren’t about me or my work. I tried to help people by sharing what I’d learned as a fledgeling writer.

And the most important thing I learned was that people don’t buy books on Twitter; they buy authors.

I hate the term ‘brand,’ but in this context YOU are your brand as much (and perhaps even more so) than your books. If you’re likeable and add value, people will trust you and want to check out your work.

I didn’t plan my strategy or anything. I was just being me. But for those of you just starting out, perhaps you might find it helpful if I present the benefits of my experience in bullet form. And so, here are my top 10 tips for book marketing on social media:

  1. Find your audience
  2. Be interested in other people
  3. Build relationships
  4. Treat authors as colleagues rather than competition
  5. Post interesting and useful content
  6. Try to be helpful
  7. Don’t be a jerk
  8. Act professionally and respectfully
  9. Be the kind of person people want to follow
  10. Share some of the lows as well as the highs – be human!

Finding an audience wasn’t hard for me, because I was already a SF fan and reader, and knew several others, so I had a place from which to build. Being a huge fan of the genre in which you write makes it easier to relate to the audience – because you’re already one of them – and you can celebrate your shared enthusiasms together.

Don’t try to copy my online voice (or anyone else’s) but find your own. Be the best version of yourself. Radiate positivity and helpfulness, and you will find most people will respond positively in return.

Do you have any tips of your own? Something that’s worked for you? Drop a comment below and share it with us.

You can also subscribe to my blog to make sure you don’t miss future posts.

Good luck!

Don’t Wait For Inspiration

Sitting around waiting to be inspired is like sitting around waiting for a train that won’t come. Instead, you need to be using your notebooks or Word documents or whatever you use. Write down every idea you have, and then start bashing those ideas together. That’s how John Wyndham came up with DAY OF THE TRIFFIDS: carnivorous plants + a cosmic event that blinds the world. On their own, each is only half a story, but smash them together and you really have something.

So, ask yourself ‘What if such-and-such happened?’ And then ask, ‘And what if this other thing happened too?’ 

Never stop asking crazy questions. You never know which ones will be the missing pieces of your story.

Irving Kingsley 1949-2020

It is with great sadness that I read of the death of Irving Kinglsey, probably one of the greatest science fiction writers I have ever encountered, and a huge personal influence.

Although no longer a household name, Kinglsey will be most remembered in genre circles for a spate of blistering space opera novels in the late 1960s and early 1970s, starting with his debut Jones’s Robot Eye (written when he was only 19 years old) to The Apocrypha of the Apocalypse, which was published shortly after his thirtieth birthday.

Following the death of his parents in 1971, Kingsley invested the money from Apocrypha in an old RV and left his native Brooklyn with the intention to drive cross-country to San Francisco–a journey that took him four years. During that time, he worked as a ranch hand in Wyoming, a cab driver in Chicago, and a NASA advisor in Houston. When he finally arrived in San Francisco in June 1975, he was married and working on the book that would be his masterpiece.

Seven Hands, Eight Feet (published in 1982) tells the story of the mystical revelations Kingsley experienced during his travels, during which time he believed he repeatedly made psychic contact with a craft from another world, and that the occupants of the craft were here on Earth to warn us of a dreadful catastrophe. However, the true nature of the catastrophe remained unclear. At the time, Kingsley assumed it had something to do with nuclear war or overpopulation, but in his final interviews in the late 1990s, he hinted it might be a crisis of a spiritual rather than physical nature.

After Seven Hands, Kingsley dropped off the radar for a while. He divorced in 1987 and spent some time in Mexico and Peru. And then, eleven years after the publication of his last book, a new novel appeared. Foliage tells the story of a group of surveyors who venture into a rainforest with the intention of marking which areas are to be turned into farmland, but are picked-off by the plants and animals. Largely ignored on its appearance, Foliage can now been seen as a spiritual ancestor of films such as Avatar and Annihilation. Writing in the Liverpool Evening Press, Grant Henderson said the book, “Does for the Amazon what Jaws did for sharks.”

Dispirited by his lack of commercial success, Kingsley turned to writing thrillers in an attempt to make money. The results were interesting but so far from the typical airport potboiler that they tended to perplex and alienate their intended audience. Which is a shame, because looking back now we can see Deadly Breakfast, Steve’s Fissure, and Day of the Octopus as masterpieces of surrealism, more akin to André Breton’s Nadja (1928) or Boris Vian’s Froth on the Daydream (1947).

Although nothing had been heard of Irving Kingsley in almost two decades, I am still very sad to hear of his passing. A lifelong smoker, he died when his attempts at lighting his pipe caused him to lose control of his jet ski. He is survived by his second wife, Gwendolyn, and his beloved dogs, Wells and Verne.